On Saturday, Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui, who were teammates for seven seasons while Matsui was on the Yankees, reunited on the diamond as they participated in a charity baseball game at the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo to support children affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disasters. Jeter has said that Matsui was one of his all-time favorite teammates. Jeter accepted Matsui invitation to come to Japan on the four-day trip to help with the activities.
When they were teammates from 2003 through 2009, the Yankees made the playoffs in every season except 2008, and advanced to the World Series in 2003, the ALCS in 2004 and won the World Series in 2009. Matsui was on the field during Jeter’s number retirement ceremony last September to show his respect for his Hall of Fame career.
Matsui, who is now a special assistant to General Manager Brian Cashman, and Jeter were managers of two middle school teams that played a three-inning game in Tokyo. Matsui’s team won the game 2-0, according to the AP.
“Jeter played a big role in all of this,” Matsui said. “The kids had a magnificent day. Hopefully, when they go back to their everyday lives tomorrow, they’ll have new dreams to sustain them.”
Jeter and Matsui, who is also known as Godzilla, conducted a youth clinic and participated in a Home Run Derby. Before coming to the U.S. to play with the Yankees in 2003, Matsui played his home games at the Tokyo Dome with the Yomiuri Giants for 10 seasons, and he highlighted the home run derby by slugging a booming homer over the right field wall at his old stadium.
The Captain enjoyed his visit because he got to see Japan from Matsui’s perspective as well as experience Japanese culture. Jeter has said that he wants to be able to do more traveling in retirement and that is exactly what he was able to do here.
This trip was made even better because they were able to raise money to help children who were hurt by the devastating earthquake/tsunami. Jeter is grateful that Matsui invited him and he was able to give back just like he does with his Turn 2 Foundation.
“It was a wonderful few days,” Jeter said. “Hideki showed me around, I got a chance to go see his hometown, I got a chance to see sumo wrestling and to top it off today was this great charity event.” Matsui was able to organize a baseball themed event that truly helped the kids of his country.
Matsui, whose nickname was Godzilla while playing, will work closely with General Manager Brian Cashman and Player Development Vice President Gary Denbo. He will spend most of this upcoming season traveling through the Yankees’ minor league system and focusing on aspects of hitting with managers, players and batting coaches.
In Matsui’s seven seasons with the Yankees, he had a solid .292 average with 140 homers, 597 RBIs and a .370 on-base percentage in 916 games as a DH and outfielder. He was an All-Star in his first two seasons with the Yankees after coming over from Japan, and in his second season he had a .298 average with 31 homers, 108 RBIs, 34 doubles and a .390 on-base percentage in 162 games.
Matsui played in the World Series with the Yankees in 2003 when they lost to the Florida Marlins in six games. In 2009, he was MVP of the World Series when the Yankees beat the Philadelphia Phillies in six games. In that World Series, he had an outstanding .615 average (8 for 13) with one double, three homers and eight RBIs. He was known as a clutch hitter who played the game the right way.
Based on what his role will be this season, he could be a hitting coach in the future. Some of the knowledge that he will be able to teach the minor league players will be how to be selective at the plate, how to take what the pitcher gives you by hitting the ball the other way, how to advance runners with less than two outs and how to deal with the media the right way since he had experience answering lots of questions from reporters in Japan and this country.
This role makes sense for Matsui (even though he might need a translator at times) because the young up-and-coming players will be able to relate to him and he will have advice to offer the players and hitting coaches.
It was also announced on Tuesday that Stephen Drew will be the Opening Day second baseman. This was not all that surprising because the Yankees signed the veteran to a one-year, $5 million contract in the offseason, but the Yankees could have waited until later in spring training to see if Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder continue to hit the way they have so far.
The Yankees are thinking that Drew, who missed spring training from 2012-2014 due to injury the first two years and not having a contract last season, will have a productive start to the season as a result of being healthy and playing in all of spring training.
He was not able to recover from his late start to the season as he had a .162 average with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 85 games with the Red Sox and Yankees last season. If he can hit the way he did in 2013 or better, when he helped the Red Sox win the World Series, then he will be worth having in the lineup. In the 2013 season, he had a .253 average with 13 homers, 29 doubles, eight triples, 67 RBIs and had a .333 on-base percentage. That was his third highest on-base percentage of his nine-year career.
Drew is still learning second base after playing shortstop his whole career before being traded to the Yankees in the middle of the 2014 season, but this spring training should allow him to further get used to the different nuances of playing second. He made four errors in his 34 games played at second with the Yankees last season, which isn’t that bad since he was learning the position on the fly.
The Yankees plan on having a short leash with Drew if he still can’t hit when the regular season starts. This means that Refsnyder and Pirela will still compete to see who will deserve to be Drew’s back-up and replace him if he can’t produce offensively.
Refsnyder projects to be the better player in the long run based on the overall offensive skills that he displayed last season, but Pirela has the edge right now because he is older, hit .333 in seven September games in 2014 and offers more versatility defensively as he can play second, short and left field. In five games played through March 10, Pirela has a .455 average (5 for 11) with three RBIs. That is a small sample size, but he proved to be able to hit for a high average when he had a .305 average in 581 at-bats with Triple-A Scranton last season.
“I’m very thankful to the Yankees for this opportunity,” Pirela said. “They’ve given me plenty of opportunities. I just want to continue doing my job and I just hope to keep getting a chance to show what I can do.”