BRONX, N.Y. – In a touching ceremony prior to Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Hideki Matsui was afforded the opportunity to retire as a New York Yankee, the team where he spent the first seven seasons of a ten-year career in the major leagues.
He signed a one-day minor league deal with the team Sunday morning, and later signed his retirement papers in a ceremony at home plate before the Yankees faced the Rays, also a former team of Matsui’s.
“I think this moment will be a moment I never forget,” Matsui said through an interpreter before the game. “To be able to retire as a member of the team which I aspired to and I looked up to, I think there’s nothing more fulfilling.”
The ceremony began a half-hour before first pitch with the words “Thank you Hideki!” flashing across the video board in center field, followed by a highlight reel of Matsui’s career in pinstripes. As Matsui was driven from the outfield to home plate, fans gave him a rousing ovation.
After signing his retirement paperwork, Matsui was presented a framed jersey featuring his number, 55, by former teammate and Yankee captain Derek Jeter. It was a touching moment for both players, as Jeter frequently refers to Matsui as one of his favorite teammates.
“He came here and was supposed to be this Godzilla that hits home runs, but he was a situational hitter. Matsui moved runners when he had to move them, he got big hits, he drove guys in, he wanted to play every day. The biggest thing — he never made excuses. Never heard him talk about any injuries, which I appreciate, he would play or he didn’t play,” said Jeter. “I enjoyed getting to know him throughout the years. He’s always been one of my favorite teammates and always will be.”
The 39-year-old Matsui invoked fans memories one last time as he donned a number 55 jersey and headed to the mound to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. 18,000 of those fans also received Matsui bobbleheads on this special day.
Even as the game began, Matsui was not forgotten. The man known as “Godzilla” was included by the bleacher creatures in their traditional roll call.
The day was a special one for Matsui and for many others in the Yankee organization. For Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, Matsui’s retirement was one of the more proud moments to occur during his tenure.
“Hideki represents everything the Yankees aspire to be and that’s a credit to his family and his country,” Cashman said. “We’re very thankful that you were here as a Yankee as well. This day is a proud one for us because we have a chance to retire Hideki as a New York Yankee.”
Matsui, who was signed by the Yankees in 2002 after spending the early part of his career playing with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan, played an important role in the team’s success during his tenure. He earned World Series MVP honors in 2009 after one of the best postseasons in Yankee history. That postseason, Matsui says, was one of his favorite memories of his career.
“Certainly winning the World Series in 2009, that stands out as a memory,” Matsui said. “Just as much in terms of impression, 2003 Game 7 of the ALCS, that stands out.”
Dan is usedview.com’s beat writer for the New York Yankees and the Trenton Thunder. Follow him on Twitter at @danpfeiffer74 for all the latest New York Yankees news.