Matsuzaka arrives for Red Sox spring training

Updated: February 12, 2007, 8:46 PM ET
Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. -- Dice-K arrived at spring training.

And so did crowds of reporters, photographers and television crews who flocked to Florida to chronicle the $103 million Japanese ace's landing. That didn't count the handful of puzzled passers-by who wondered what all the fuss was about Monday at Tampa International Airport.

It's all about Daisuke Matsuzaka.

He arrived at the airport early Monday night, then got in a car for the ride to Fort Myers, about 130 miles to the south, to settle in before his first workout at the Boston Red Sox training camp.

"I have a few days left before camp officially starts," Matsuzaka said through an interpreter during a five-minute interview session in the baggage claim area. "My excitement has not reached its peak, but I would love to meet my teammates."

Moments earlier, his non-stop flight from Los Angeles touched down on schedule two months after bumpy negotiations led to a $52 million, six-year contract. That's on top of the $51.11 million the Red Sox paid the Seibu Lions for winning the right to negotiate with him.

All that money bought a 26-year-old right-hander who was revered in Japan since he pitched a no-hitter in high school and has a catchy nickname that already has shown up on T-shirts around Boston.

But he has one spring training goal shared by all major leaguers.

"I would try not to get injured," he said.

Arriving in Florida wearing a pink polo shirt with an alligator logo, Matsuzaka strode briskly from the escalator to a waiting media horde -- 17 photographers, 10 TV cameras and about a dozen reporters -- nearly all from Japanese outlets. Some bystanders joined in, taking pictures with cell phones and digital point-and-shoot cameras.

With a serious expression, Matsuzaka politely answered a rapid-fire series of questions as cameras flashed throughout.

Is he concerned about a new spring training routine?

"I think my experience getting ready in Japan is not that significantly different," he said, standing beside a member of the marketing firm that represents him in Japan.

What was it like to train in Southern California for about the past month without a team coach's supervision?

"Compared to outfielders or hitters, I don't have to do the same thing," he said, "basically just running and building my strength."

His arrival at spring training had been eagerly anticipated since he reached a contract agreement on Dec. 14. There were varying reports about his travel itinerary. Some had him flying by private jet to Fort Myers. Others had him traveling on a regularly scheduled flight from Los Angeles to Tampa.

His plans weren't announced until early Monday -- commercial from L.A., but in the first-class cabin, of course.

The first official workout for pitchers and catchers is scheduled for Sunday. Matsuzaka plans to hold his first formal news conference in Fort Myers late Thursday afternoon.

By then he will have met teammates who also showed up early.

"I want to see what he brings to the table," Jonathan Papelbon, another newcomer to Boston's rotation, said Monday, then broke into a smile. "He's got a new acupuncture guy he's bringing in so I might try some acupuncture.

"If he needs something, obviously I'll be there. And, hopefully, if I need something, he'll be there for me."

While Papelbon is making a transition from the closer's role, Matsuzaka's adjustment is more demanding -- a new team, a different culture and a load of expectations that come with his past success and present salary.

His new pitching coach, John Farrell, thinks he can handle that.

"The calmness and the mound presence he shows is outstanding," Farrell said recently.

Matsuzaka joins a rotation that includes Papelbon, Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield. It could be one of baseball's best.

And for Matsuzaka, it's just starting.

On Monday, seven photographers focused on the down escalator, waiting for their first glimpse of him. One female passenger from Switzerland asked who they were waiting for and was told it was a Red Sox pitcher.

"A soccer player?" she asked.

Matsuzaka isn't universally known, and there was one reminder that his journey to major-league stardom has a ways to go. The message board above Belt 9 showed which flights' bags would be unloaded there. One was the flight from Los Angeles. Just under it was a flight from Boston.

That's where he should be pitching in two months -- at Fenway Park in front of passionate, demanding fans where he will make another much anticipated arrival.

"I would like to meet everybody's expectations by playing well," the $103 million pitcher said.

Then Dice-K picked up the one bag he carried and walked quickly to the car taking him to his new job while others waited to collect his luggage.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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