02/17/2003 7:04 PM ET
Torre talks to newest slugger
By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
TAMPA, Fla. -- Hideki Matsui finally made it to Legends Field, as position players reported to camp on Monday to take their spring physicals.
Hideki Matsui listens during Monday's news conference at Legends Field in Tampa. Fla. (AP)
Matsui, who has been working out at the Yankees' minor-league complex for the last week, put on his navy blue No. 55 jersey and pinstriped pants and met the media on the eve of his first official workout as a Yankee.
He then posed for photos on the field before returning to the minor-league complex for a workout, running and taking batting practice for the final time before the full squad gathers at Legends Field on Tuesday.
"I'm looking forward to watching him take batting practice and develop here," said manager Joe Torre. "I haven't seen Matsui swing a bat yet."
Torre also met with the large media contingent in Tampa on Monday, including the 70 or so members of the Japanese press. Before the press conference, Torre and Matsui had a brief conversation, as the manager told his new slugger about the way he likes to do business during the spring.
Matsui, who hit fourth for the Yomiuri Giants, could conceivably bat anywhere from fourth to seventh in the Yankees batting order.
"I told him, especially in Spring Training, that I like to change it a lot to see how many options I have during the season," Torre said. "We experiment a lot in Spring Training, and he's capable of hitting anywhere in the order except leadoff. He may hit fourth one day and sixth the next, but that doesn't mean I wasn't happy with the way he hit fourth."
"I'm here for the team," Matsui said through his new translator, Roger Kahlon. "Whatever the team needs is what I'm going to do."
Matsui's first "game" action will come next Monday, when the Yankees play their first of two intrasquad games at Legends Field. Torre believes that Matsui's biggest adjustment will be facing big-league pitching that he has never seen before.
"I think he'll adapt very well. My big caution is to be patient," Torre said. "He's going to expect a lot from himself, but he's facing a whole new group of pitchers that he hasn't faced before. As a former player, I can tell you that's a little more difficult to get used to."
Matsui isn't thinking that far ahead. Not yet, anyway.
"I'm not at the point yet where I can start looking at pitchers and what they do," he said. "Right now, I'm focusing on the basics and getting adjusted."
While most of his new teammates and coaches haven't had much of an opportunity to get to know him, Matsui has struck a chord with them when it comes to his personality.
"He's very quiet, very polite," said Bernie Williams, who played against Matsui in the All-Star Series in Japan last November. "He doesn't seem to have a big ego or a bad attitude. He seems like he wants to learn."
"I noticed right away how respectful he is," Torre said. "He has a lot of class, because class follows respect. I think the fans of New York are going to love him."
A few Japanese reporters asked Torre and Williams for their predictions on what kind of numbers Matsui would post in his rookie season, though neither took the bait.
"It's very hard to tell," Williams said. "We saw him in Japan, and he was obviously pressing and he didn't have the series he would have liked to have. He's been one of the top players in the Japanese league, and our scouting personnel thought that he was going to be a good player here."
Torre, who doesn't like to project numbers for any of his players, said that in his mind, Matsui's success will be linked to the success of the Yankees.
"We judge our success by how many games we win during the season," Torre said. "We're not really concerned on a day-to-day basis with who knocks in the winning run. If we win as a team, then we've all done well. Hopefully he'll be a part of a championship team."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.