NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- In any other year, Daisuke Matsuzaka would have been back in Japan, where spring training camps opened yesterday.
Instead, he was here, in the ultramodern offices of his agent, Scott Boras, sitting in front of a wall of baseballs (47 across, 31 down, 1,457 in all) and describing the first phase of his preparation to play not for his former team, the Seibu Lions, but for the Red Sox.
Dressed casually in a red
Matsuzaka has been working out at the sports fitness facility Boras operates in a cooperative arrangement with Soka University, a six-year-old liberal arts school whose roots, coincidentally, are in Japan. Yesterday's photo opportunity showing him work out at another neighboring school, Saddleback College, was canceled because of wet grounds, but Matsuzaka said that on Tuesday, he'd thrown off the mound for the first time this winter, throwing 60 pitches.
Everything went well, he said, while hinting that he was working on a new pitch. That, of course, is inevitably going to prompt speculation that the pitch in question is the legendary gyroball, though Boras rolled his eyes at the suggestion.
"First it will be the gyroball," he said, "backed up by the Loch Ness Monster."
If anything, Boras said, Matsuzaka is refining his two-seam fastball, a sinker with excellent movement to both sides of the plate that he used only sparingly in Japan, the agent said, because Matsuzaka's four-seam fastball was so overpowering.
Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell has visited "to get the initial introduction out of the way," he said by phone from his home in Cleveland. "He's a very engaging person. He was outgoing, and he likes not only to get his work in but you can tell that he's a person who is fun to be around."
Farrell observed two of Matsuzaka's workouts, along with Sox assistant trainer Mike Reinold. He also watched him do long tossing. "He was throwing on flat ground from 200 to 220 feet," Farrell said. "You can tell from the trajectory of his throws, and the way he was able to maintain his mechanics, without overextending or opening up, that he has very good arm strength."
Farrell said he gave Matsuzaka a set of tapes of hitters in the American League East, not so much for Matsuzaka to begin formulating his plan of attack, but just to put some names and faces together.
Matsuzaka said he had taken a stab at doing some research on his own.
"I bought major league magazines when I was back in Japan and memorized a lot of the names and faces of players," he said.
Matsuzaka answered questions for the better part of 45 minutes. The biggest difference between this session and his introductory press conference in Boston last December? The translator. Handling the duties flawlessly yesterday was Masa Hoshino, a Harvard graduate in environmental sciences (Class of 2002) who will serve as Matsuzaka's personal interpreter (at the Sox' expense) this season.
With Hoshino translating Matsuzaka's responses into fully formed paragraphs, it was easier to discern the thoughtful nature of his responses -- and his propensity to laugh.
"One of the things I was most worried about in coming over here was obviously the food. But to my surprise, I found the vegetables are great, the fish tastes great," Matsuzaka said with a smile. "So far, so good. I've been able to lead a comfortable few weeks here."
Matsuzaka talked about how he enjoyed his free time in Boston.
"I had the chance to go by and look at the house where I'm going to be living, also had a chance to visit a museum, and as I walked around town, a lot of people said hello to me in a sort of very respectful and cheery manner," he said.
His plan, he said, was to show up in Fort Myers for spring training on Feb. 12, four days before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report. The biggest on-field adjustment, he acknowledged, will be to the five-man rotation, after having pitched in a six-day rotation.
Not that he seemed too worried. Meeting briefly afterward with three Boston reporters, Matsuzaka laughed when Hoshino translated the admonition from one "not to believe anything he'd heard about the Boston media."
And when Channel 4's Dan Roche wished him, "Good luck," Matsuzaka did not miss a beat -- or wait for the translation.
"Thank you," he said.
Gordon Edes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.