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Matsuzaka factor mobilizes Red Sox

Team reinventing itself for pitcher

It is an open question how Daisuke Matsuzaka adjusts to the world of the Boston Red Sox, but it's clear how much the Sox have already transformed that world for their new Japanese pitcher, to a degree unprecedented for anyone else who has ever worn the uniform.

No gesture is too small. Team executives carry business cards printed in English on the front, Japanese on the back. "A question of respect," said Chuck Steedman, vice president of Fenway Enterprises and broadcast services.

No obstacle is too big. The Sox have literally knocked down ballpark walls to accommodate the large contingent of Japanese media that will be following him. "We're expecting over 100 Japanese members in spring training, and 50 a game on a regular basis during the season," said media relations director John Blake, who has arranged for two additional trailers to handle the media crush in spring training, which opens Friday at the team's minor league facility in Fort Myers, Fla.

New staff? The Sox have provided Matsuzaka with a Japanese-speaking trainer, a Japanese-speaking media liaison (a longtime friend of his wife, Tomoyo), a personal interpreter, and a personal masseuse. An English instructor has been hired to come to spring training and also will be with him during the season.

"We've talked extensively to executives from other clubs who have had Japanese players on their teams, in order to learn what has and has not worked in transitioning the players," said Brian O'Halloran, assistant to general manager Theo Epstein.

Extra effort? New pitching coach John Farrell has been studying Japanese with a tutor. "A humbling experience," he says. Catcher Jason Varitek has already received DVD copies of Matsuzaka's starts in Japan so he can become acquainted with his new batterymate. Traveling secretary Jack McCormick helped line up housing (apartments for Matsuzaka and his staff in spring training, and a leased house -- in the Brookline/Chestnut Hill area, his agent, Scott Boras, hinted -- during the season). Equipment manager Joe Cochran soon will be contacting Japanese restaurants in the Boston area about catering meals to the clubhouse.

Marketing opportunities? Expect to see Japanese advertisers buying signage behind the plate and on the bullpen walls, and a sponsor's logo all over the backdrop when Matsuzaka does postgame interviews. "Good thing he wasn't a left fielder," said Sox marketing VP Sam Kennedy. "There might have been Japanese characters on the Green Monster."

Goodies for the fans? The Sox have plans, on days that Matsuzaka pitches, to hold back 20-30 tickets and offer the "Matsuzaka experience." For a premium price (yet to be set, but sure to be lots of yen), fans will be invited to the park early, receive a Matsuzaka Sox jersey, and have dinner at one of the team's restaurants. Japanese tour operators are being enticed to offer groups access to Fenway Park on non-game days, to hold a cocktail party, luncheon, or other function, since it's so hard to know in advance when Matsuzaka might be pitching. There also will be tours of the ballpark given in Japanese, as part of a new initiative to provide multilingual guides on tape.

"We have a great opportunity to build our brand in a market where our brand was known but not very strong," Steedman said.

Years in the making
And if the Sox can't do enough for Matsuzaka, Boras will. The agent says the Sox have pledged to give Matsuzaka a membership at one of the finest country clubs in the Boston area (still to be determined) and a round of golf at five of the most prestigious courses in the country, including Pebble Beach and Augusta National. It's also in his contract that he has the right to 10 round-trip flights between Japan and Boston for each of the six years of his deal, for family, friends, and his own personal use.

"He's got some pretty special things," Boras said. "The Red Sox have all these corporate connections."

One of Boras's employees, Tak Sato, who was the agent's point man in Japan when he first recruited Matsuzaka, will be living with Matsuzaka during spring training and in Boston. For almost a month, the 26-year-old Matsuzaka has been training at a sports fitness institute in Southern California operated by Boras at Soka University, a Japan-rooted school near Boras's spectacular offices in Newport Beach. Steve Odgers, a former world-class decathlete, has a staff of five trainers, and he has met with Matsuzaka, Farrell, and assistant Sox trainer Mike Reinold to devise a suitable workout program for the pitcher.

Matsuzaka came to California not only with his wife and daughter, but also with an old high school teammate, known as Tetsu, who has been catching him on the days he throws. A couple of times, Matsuzaka has dropped in for lunch with staff people from Boras's office in the office kitchen/dining room.

"The night we all had dinner at Tom Werner's house," Boras said, referring to the occasion in which Sox owners were introduced to Matsuzaka last November, "Larry Lucchino asked him, 'Are you planning to learn English?' Out of the blue, Daisuke says, 'Of course.' Lucchino nearly fell out of his chair. Daisuke understands a lot more than you think.

"But now it's a running thing between us. Any time we ask him to do something, he says, 'Of course.' "

When did the Sox begin laying the groundwork for Matsuzaka? You could argue that Lucchino, the Sox CEO, has been preparing since Daniel Okimoto, a Stanford professor and former Princeton classmate, placed a call to Lucchino from the United Airlines lounge at Tokyo's Norita Airport during a two-hour wait for a flight back home.

"There was a ballgame on -- it was the Koshien," said Okimoto, referring to the national high school tournament that captivates the country for two weeks each spring. "I saw this tall, slender Japanese pitcher throwing smoke. I looked at him and thought, 'Wow, who is this guy?' I immediately called Larry and said, 'You've got to fly out here and see this guy pitch.' "

That was nine years ago. Lucchino was with the Padres then. Matsuzaka was still in high school, on the cusp of becoming a national hero.

Okimoto, who was enlisted last fall by Lucchino in the Sox' efforts to reach a deal for Matsuzaka, was present at the Werner dinner, and met the man he'd first laid eyes on in high school.

Future investment
Lucchino, who made a good-will trip to Japan even before Matsuzaka was signed, reminds people that the Sox have added not one but two Japanese pitchers, though their interest in veteran lefthanded reliever Hideki Okajima grew exponentially once they won the bidding for Matsuzaka.

"We recognize this as the beginning of a long journey," Lucchino said. "That's one of the things we've learned about the Japanese culture -- that it is a long-term perspective, a long-term process. We will be patient. We hope our fans will be patient with this process, which will continue for several years.

"This is not a one-shot deal. We hope to use this as an example of what we hope to do to attract other Japanese players in the future."

So far, Matsuzaka has thrown only one pitch for the Red Sox since they made their $103 million investment in him ($51.11 million posting fee; six-year, $52 million contract). That was the one that sent majority owner John W. Henry tumbling backward during an impromptu game of catch at a frozen Fenway Park in December, on the day of Matsuzaka's introductory press conference in Boston.

That is all due to change shortly. Matsuzaka said he plans to arrive in Florida tomorrow, four days in advance of the official reporting date for Sox pitchers and catchers. His first media session is scheduled for Thursday, a moment Blake began preparing for back at Thanksgiving, after the Sox had won the posting. Blake, visiting relatives in Florida for the holiday, drove down to Fort Myers to meet with Todd Stephens, the team's director of Florida operations.

"We're expecting five or six [Japanese] national TV networks to send crews down for most of the time," Blake said. "There will be seven or eight sports dailies, three major dailies, and two wire services."

Three of the TV networks -- NHK Broadcasting, Tokyo Broadcasting, and Fuji TV -- are rights-holders to MLB games, rights that are controlled by Major League Baseball International, which sold them to Dentsu Inc., the largest advertising agency brand in the world and the aggregate rights-holder. Jolf Radio holds the radio broadcasting rights in Japan. The three networks are expected to televise all of Matsuzaka's starts back to Japan, Blake said, while Jolf may do upward of 50 games.

"The networks might go live three or four times a day back to Japan in spring training," said Blake, who will be operating out of a greatly expanded press room when the Sox return to Boston, the team having knocked down an old storage area to increase the size of the existing press room by 2 1/2 times.

It will be in that fifth-floor room, Blake said, that Matsuzaka's postgame interviews will be conducted with the Japanese media, after he has a session in the team's normal interview room with the English-language reporters.

Joel Feld, NESN's vice president of programming, said the network is expanding its pregame show to 90 minutes twice a week (Monday and Friday), but that decision was not Matsuzaka-driven. NESN does not hold the rights to broadcast Sox games in Japan, but NESN is working with the Japanese rights-holders, Feld said, about camera positions and shared feeds.

"One of the things we decided to do is to treat the Japanese media corps as an opportunity, not as a burden," Lucchino said. "Maybe that's easier said than done, given their size and pervasiveness."

Nothing lost in translation
Blake, knowing he will need help, added a Japanese-speaking member to his staff: Sachiyo "Sachi" Sekiguchi, a USC-educated former free-lance TV production coordinator in Japan who has been friends with Matsuzaka's wife, a former sports anchor on Nippon TV, for the last five years and has assisted the couple in their affairs for the last year. "I hope to help make bridges between the media, both English and Japanese, with Daisuke-san and Okajima-san," she said.

Sekiguchi will not act as translator for Matsuzaka's press conferences. Those duties will be handled by a Harvard graduate, Masa Hoshino (Class of 2002), who was introduced to Boras's Japan contact through a mutual friend and left his career as an architect to come on board with Matsuzaka.

Tomoyo Matsuzaka is a celebrity in her own right. "I was told in one meeting [with a tourism representative] that I needed to understand something," Steedman said, "that they are the most popular couple in Japan, a cultural phenomenon, like a Brad and Angelina."

Does this raise additional security issues for the Sox? Lucchino doesn't think so, beyond the normal steps the team takes to safeguard any of its players.

"Security is an issue for all players that have the outsized, gigantic public image Matsuzaka has," said Lucchino. "He is treated in Japan, from my understanding, with real politeness and deference and respect.

"Matsuzaka is coming to a new country with his wife and 1-year-old baby daughter, so naturally he wants to know how his family will be treated at a large public event."

On Feb. 25, according to equipment man Cochran, Matsuzaka will be fitted for a new uniform by Majestic, the company that supplies all major league players. Lockers in the Sox clubhouse won't be assigned until mid-March, Cochran said, after he's had a chance to consult with a few veterans on the club, but he expects the two Japanese pitchers to have space side-by-side in the pitchers' row. It's highly unlikely, Cochran said, that Matsuzaka will be assigned the coveted corner space occupied in the past by such stars as Roger Clemens, Pedro Martínez, and Bret Saberhagen, and more recently Keith Foulke, who is now with Cleveland.

The team will furnish bats to Matsuzaka, who won't need them in a game until interleague play in June, but he's on his own for gloves and shoes. Last month, Boras said, he negotiated a six-year, multimillion-dollar deal for Matsuzaka with Nike. Will there be a new Dice-K shoe? No plans to manufacture one yet, Boras said.

Repertoire and rapport
When Farrell visited last month, he provided Matsuzaka with his pitching program through his first two starts in the exhibition season, which would take him through the first week of March. Like the other Sox starters, Matsuzaka will probably throw three bullpen side sessions and two rounds of live batting practice before seeing his first game action. By the time he arrives in camp, Matsuzaka will have thrown six or seven bullpen sessions, said Farrell, who watched Matsuzaka engage in some long tossing in California.

In the first couple of weeks in camp, Farrell said, when the pitchers are divided into groups to work out, the two Japanese pitchers will be kept together, but an effort will be made to have Matsuzaka in the same group as the rest of the prospective starting rotation. "We want to try to build some camaraderie among that group," said Farrell.

Farrell, a former big-league pitcher and minor league coordinator for the Indians, has been working one-on-one with a Japanese tutor a couple of times a week for the last two months. He has been working on some very baseball-specific terms to use with Matsuzaka, but will rely heavily on Masai Takahashi, who was promoted to the team's training staff after spending last season with the team's minor league club in Portland, Maine.

"Obviously, I can't take an interpreter to the mound," Farrell said. "I'm on my own. So I owe it to him and everyone involved to have some ability to communicate in the game, at least when he's between the lines."

Matsuzaka's greatest concern to date, Farrell said, was making the adjustment from the six-man rotation in which he pitched for the Seibu Lions to the five-man rotation the Sox employ. Farrell said he would leave it up to the pitcher to decide what day he throws in between starts. Often, a pitcher in a five-man rotation throws a bullpen session on the second day, but Matsuzaka may elect to throw on the third day, which is not uncommon in the big leagues.

Farrell gave Matsuzaka some footage of opposing batters on teams in the American League East, "just so he can begin to familiarize himself with names, and how they look in the box," Farrell said. "We're not at the point where he is breaking down hitters and figuring out how to attack them. We just want him to see what guys look like when they get in the box.

"It's important not to inundate him with information. There's a natural progression to the learning curve here. It's important for both sides to learn one another and not to recommend change initially."

Opportunity knocks
While the Sox have a plan in place for Matsuzaka on the field, the off-field logistical and marketing issues have also occupied a great deal of attention this winter. Kennedy accompanied Lucchino and club president Mike Dee on their trip to Japan, and has been engaging Japanese companies interested in becoming corporate sponsors and advertisers. To date, he said, no contracts have been signed, though he does expect companies to seize the opportunity to invest in field signage and the media backdrop.

But the suggestion Matsuzaka represents a financial bonanza for the Sox is wrong, Kennedy insists, noting that all broadcasting rights and merchandising revenue streams are controlled by Major League Baseball International and divided equally among the 30 big-league teams. The Sox mainly stand to make money through ticket sales -- an area in which they have little room for growth, having sold out 307 straight games -- and sponsorship sales.

The club, for example, doesn't have the rights to Matsuzaka's likeness and image. "We can't go up to W.B. Mason, one of our sponsors, and say, 'How'd you like to use Matsuzaka in a commercial?' " said Kennedy.

Most of Matsuzaka's marketing is being handled by Architect Inc., a Japan-based company that has negotiated deals for the pitcher with Asahi Beer, Toyota, and Coca-Cola in Japan.

"But if everybody in Japan who knows Matsuzaka is talking about the Red Sox, you can't put a price tag on that," Kennedy said. "Like the MasterCard commercial says, that's priceless."

Steedman recently hosted a seminar at Fenway Park for the Japanese broadcast entities conducted by Major League Baseball International, in which they were shown their broadcast positions and potential camera locations for the season.

The Sox have also been in contact with Japanese groups and local tourism agencies for advice on a variety of issues, ranging from protocol to tour groups. Pat Moscaritolo, head of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he brought four Japanese tour operators to Fenway for a tour of the ballpark and the Twins souvenir shop across the street, and intends to host an informational session for the Japanese media March 7.

Moscaritolo, who said his bureau tracked about 12,000 visitors from Japan last year, is projecting at least 20,000 this year, which he estimates could mean $14 million flowing into the local economy. One tour operator affiliated with All Nippon Airways, he said, sold out 350 packages that included Sox tickets in three days. The going rate for the package: $3,000.

Peter Grilli, president of the Japan Society of Boston , bemoans the absence of nonstop flights from Japan to Boston, which places the city at some disadvantage to Seattle and New York, where Japanese stars Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui play, respectively.

But Grilli, who said there has been a spike in inquiries about Japanese language lessons since Matsuzaka signed, said he was impressed by how thorough the Sox were in observing protocol.

"The first call we got was from John Henry's office," said Grilli, who provided Blake with his new business cards and advised the Sox on what gifts they should take with them to Japan. "They said, 'We don't want to make any mistakes.' "

Boras's greatest concern for Matsuzaka is the burden of expectations he will be facing in Boston -- and in Japan.

"The biggest thing I want to convey to Red Sox fans is this is a new system," Boras said. "He is a brilliant player, but it's a new system. Give him some time. For us, we want to get this to where there's as little change as possible in his daily process, while knowing everything else has changed."

It has changed for Matsuzaka, and for the Red Sox.

"Like someone said in one of our meetings: The world is coming to Fenway," Kennedy said. "We have a huge responsibility here. It's like hosting an All-Star Game or a World Series. Every time he pitches, it will be a big deal."