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Matsui promises to make playing decision soon

TOKYO -- Still undecided if he'll take part in the inaugural World Baseball Classic, Japanese star Hideki Matsui is torn between an obligation to an entire nation and the New York Yankees.

In a country that places a premium on duty, there is tremendous pressure on Matsui to represent Japan at the World Cup-style
tournament in March. Just about everywhere he goes these days, the Yankee outfielder is asked why he has yet to agree to play.

"I'm also a Yankee," Matsui told reporters Tuesday. "Is
it my goal to become a World Series champion in 2006? Of course it
is."

Adding to the pressure is that legendary home run hitter and
former Yomiuri Giants star Sadaharu Oh is Japan's manager and has personally appealed to Matsui to join the team. Oh reportedly was
able to convince a reluctant Ichiro Suzuki to take part.

Suzuki may be Japan's best player, but Matsui comes closest to
matching the power of baseball's top hitters.

Japan failed to win a baseball medal at the Sydney Olympics and vowed to do better in international competitions by using its top
players. It won the bronze medal in Athens with a team of
professionals but, as major leaguers, the likes of Matsui and
Suzuki couldn't take part.

Japanese baseball fans are eager to see how their best players
would stack up against the top players from the United States, the
Dominican Republic and Cuba.

Matsui has said that he wants to make a decision soon and that
it would be rude to keep Oh and Japanese fans waiting too long.

At a press conference last week, Oh said he is 100 percent sure
Matsui will be joining the team and has left a roster spot open for
the Japanese star.

Matsui last month agreed to a $52 million, four-year contract
with the Yankees and has repeatedly said he wants to improve on his
statistics from last season, when he batted .305 with 23 homers and 116 RBI.

Japan will be home for the first round of the tournament, March 3-5 at the Tokyo Dome. Japan is part of Group A, with South Korea,
China and Taiwan.

Matsui is also tremendously proud of his consecutive games
streak and is reluctant to jeopardize that. He has played in 1,737
consecutive professional games (1,250 with Yomiuri). His streak of
487 consecutive games with New York is the longest streak by any
Yankee since Lou Gehrig's 2,130-game streak.

Japan was reluctant at first to take part in the March
tournament, which is being organized by Major League Baseball and
the MLB players' association, and comes at a time when local
players are getting ready for the regular season.

New York teammates Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez plan to play,
and MLB representatives have stressed that Matsui's failure to give
a definite answer at this point has nothing to do with the Yankees
not wanting him to take part.