Seibu star now prized free agent

Updated: November 17, 2003, 10:08 AM ET
Associated Press

TOKYO -- Another Japanese star wants to play in the major leagues.

Kazuo Matsui
Kazuo Matsui taught himself to be a switch-hitter after making his pro debut.

Seibu Lions shortstop Kazuo Matsui, a seven-time All-Star in Japan, said Monday at a news conference that he's decided to pursue a big-league career in North America.

``It's been my dream to play in the majors,'' Matsui said. ``This represents a new challenge for me.''

Matsui, 28, hopes to follow in the footsteps of Hideki Matsui and Ichiro Suzuki, who quickly became major-league stars after coming over from Japan.

Kazuo Matsui is a free agent and can sign with any big league team that wants him. Several clubs, including the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners, are said to be interested in the speedy switch-hitter.

Known as ``Little Matsui,'' he is not related to Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui, who came over from Japan before last season and finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting.

The 5-foot-9 Kazuo Matsui batted .305 with 33 homers, 84 RBI and 179 hits this year for the Lions. He spent several weeks mulling whether to remain in Japan or go to the majors.

``It was a tough decision to make,'' he said. ``I wondered whether I should play at home or go overseas.''

He traveled to New York after the season to watch a playoff game between the Red Sox and Yankees and returned to Japan saying he was impressed with the atmosphere at Yankee Stadium.

Kazuo Matsui's departure would be another in a series of marquee players to leave Japan for the major leagues. Others include Dodgers pitcher Hideo Nomo and Mariners reliever Kazuhiro Sasaki.

Kazuo Matsui was a key member of Japan's national team that recently won three straight games at the Asian championship to clinch a spot in the Athens Olympics.

He has expressed a desire to represent Japan at the Olympics but won't be able to if he signs with a major-league team because the Olympics take place during the big league season.

``I also wondered about the possibility of competing in the Olympics for Japan but my sincere feelings told me to go to the majors,'' he said.

Kazuo Matsui joined the Lions in 1994 and won three Gold Glove Awards. He led the Pacific League in steals in '97 and '99.

He was named MVP in 1998 when the Lions won the Pacific League pennant before losing to the Yokohama BayStars in the Japan Series.


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

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