03/27/2004 1:48 PM ET
Workouts draw large Tokyo crowds
Over 30,000 people watch Yanks, Devil Rays practice
By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
|Hideki Matsui and Jason Giambi share a laugh during the Yankees' workout at the Tokyo Dome. (Katsumi Kasahara/AP)
TOKYO -- On the field, it was just another typical off-day workout. Players took batting practice, fielded ground balls and shagged flies, going through the motions of a standard pregame routine.
Off the field, well, that was another story altogether.
More than 30,000 people -- mostly children -- gathered at the Tokyo Dome to watch the Yankees and Devil Rays work out, one day before the two big-league teams would play against two Japanese teams in exhibition games.
"That sound is universal," said manager Joe Torre of the children in the crowd. "It doesn't matter what language they speak, they all sound the same. It's a great sound."
Fans in the stands cheered on the players as they hit, getting louder every time a ball went over the outfield wall. Children, attending the workout on the day tabbed as "Kids Day," had logos of both teams painted on their faces. Cheerleaders manned the aisles, donned in both Yankees and Devil Rays jerseys and waving shiny pom-poms.
"We've had open workouts before," said catcher Jorge Posada. "But nothing like that."
Alex Rodriguez said it reminded him of the All-Star Game workout, while John Flaherty joked that he's never felt so much pressure while taking BP. Even Hideki Matsui, who has worked out hundreds of times in the dome they call the "Big Egg," seemed impressed by the turnout.
"I've never experienced practicing in that kind of environment," Matsui said through an interpreter.
Matsui, naturally, was the star of the show, as fans went wild every time he became visible on the field.
"It was fun, especially seeing what happened when Matsui went by," said Derek Jeter. "We're getting to see a whole new culture. Matsui has told us so much, but it's great to see it firsthand."
Up on the scoreboard, a prerecorded message had the Yankees introducing themselves to the fans in Japanese. When Matsui appeared on the video, he was the only player to speak English, declaring, "I'm Hideki Matsui. I'm back. I will do my best."
Earlier in the day, Matsui was joined by Torre, Jeter, Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera for a press conference, as they met both the American and Japanese media before the workout.
"It's kind of mind-boggling, to say the least," Jeter said of the attention. "All of the games now are televised here, so with the huge following Matsui has, it increased it a little bit."
"It's worldwide. Everybody knows that 'NY' on the hat," Posada said. "You can walk down any street in the world with that hat on and people know who you are. It's pretty amazing."
After seeing the fan reaction to the workout, several Yankees players were intrigued to see what a game-day crowd will be like.
"They're fanatical," said Jason Giambi. "It's unbelievable how much they love the game. It's exciting, and it gets you excited to play."
"You feed off of this," Torre said. "Spring Training gets boring after a while, so we've gone from beige to bright red."
New York will take on the Yomiuri Giants on Sunday night, then battle the Hanshin Tigers on Monday afternoon.
"I'm looking forward to seeing the reaction that we get, what Hideki gets," Flaherty said. "I'm interested in seeing the Japanese style of baseball. Hopefully we'll represent ourselves well."
Although the workout was a light-hearted affair, the Yankees know that they are in Japan for a reason -- to start their season, one they hope will end with a World Series title.
"It's back to business," said A-Rod. "We have some serious games coming up in a few days, so we have to put the distractions aside. It's great for them, but for us, we have our thoughts of trying to hone in on Opening Day."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.