Yankees, D-Rays arrive back in states

Updated: April 2, 2004, 11:00 AM ET
Associated Press

TOKYO -- Derek Jeter walked around Tokyo and couldn't believe what he saw -- or didn't see.

"I was shocked that there's no trash," the New York Yankees' captain said. "Even though there's thousands and thousands of people, millions of people, walking the streets, there's no trash. That was amazing to me."

It sure was different from home.

Five days in Japan was an eye-opening experience for the Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who got back home early Thursday after splitting their opening two-game series in the Tokyo Dome.

They rode Black Hawk helicopters to U.S. military bases, attended an embassy reception, cracked open sake barrels at a party, checked out the night life in Roppongi and shopped till they dropped in Akihabara, the neon-filled electronics district.

Gary Sheffield bought a new video camera and shipped home a massage chair.

"Sometimes you can't get a massage," the New York outfielder said with a smile.

For the most part, players seemed to enjoy the 7,250-mile trip from spring training in Florida. While it was a long way to go for a two-game series and the jet lag was brutal for many, they got a charge from experiencing the response of the Japanese fans.

The Yankees were like rock stars in this baseball-crazy land. Everywhere they went, people looked at them with awe, as if they were larger-than-life creatures. That's what Yankees closer Mariano Rivera will remember.

"Seeing the kids' faces, signing a baseball, tossing a baseball -- it was nice," he said.

For some, there was dislocation. A few had the spaced-out look of Bill Murray in "Lost in Translation."

Mike Mussina wasn't pleased with the journey and saw only the hotel and ballpark except for three quick trips for food. He subsisted mostly on Ritz crackers and chips, he said -- perhaps jokingly, perhaps not. After he lost the opener 8-3, Mussina said he felt out of whack, unable to fall into a normal sleep pattern.

"It's a mind-set," Sheffield said. "If you think negative, it's going to be negative. If you think you're tired, you know you're going to be tired."

Some loved the sushi and sake. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman had a great time at Inakaya, a robatayaki where diners sit at a U-shaped counter around a large grill area. Cooks in the middle and staff behind shout out to each order and hand the beef, chicken, seafood and vegetables to customers with huge, long paddles.

Yankees manager Joe Torre may prefer steak and pasta over pork skewers and sea urchin, but that didn't stop him from saying he would definitely return if the opportunity arose.

"It may not be my favorite place to eat," he said, "but everything else ..."

His stopped for a moment, and then told a story about how he was recognized on the street, calling the Japanese a "happy people."

"I never expected that kind of interest," he said. "People on the street, running after you, yet not touching you or anything -- just wanted to see."

Tampa Bay had a lower profile, but just as good a time.

"We really enjoyed our experience here in Japan," manager Lou Piniella said. "Tokyo is a beautiful city to visit."

Frances Clark, the wife of Yankees first baseman Tony Clark, said she "couldn't say anything bad about the country."

"It was wonderful to see how meticulous they are, from wrapping the smallest gift, to carrying your luggage. They do everything perfect," she said.

At the center of everything was Hideki Matsui, the Yankees outfielder who starred for the Yomiuri Giants for 10 seasons. He homered against his old team in an exhibition game Sunday, then hit another in the Yankees' 12-1 rout Wednesday night.

Matsui's presence on the Yankees was a big reason New York owner George Steinbrenner sent the team overseas for the first time since a postseason tour of Asia and the Pacific in 1955. Fans cheered Matsui, chanted his name and bowed to the player they call "Godzilla." He came away with a Kabuto, a traditional helmet of samurai armor, awarded to the series MVP.

"I'm really happy that he came home and showed people what Matsui is all about," said Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, whose two three-run homers were overshadowed by his teammate's emotional homecoming.

After the final game, Matsui packed up his gear with his teammates and got ready to head back to the United States, where the Yankees and Devil Rays play another two-game series starting Tuesday at St. Petersburg, Fla.

Given the love they have for Matsui, fans no doubt would love it if he could stay. But he's a major leaguer now, ready for his second season in New York.

"I appreciate how the fans feel,'' he said, "but you just can't help it."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press