At the moment, Matsui is the least popular Met, although in volatile New York that could change in a heartbeat. He is batting .228 and looking generally shaky at second base, his new position. For a man who was a star in Japan, this could be a major loss of face.
At Seibu, Matsui batted .309 in nine seasons and won four Gold Gloves as the best shortstop in the Pacific League. When the Mets were going over to Japan at the start of the 2000 season, Valentine, who had managed there, was asked to name the best players in Japan. He named three: Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui and Kazuo Matsui, who are not related.
The other two have become stalwarts in Seattle and the Bronx. Kazuo Matsui is being roasted in Queens.
“Obviously, I haven’t produced results at the plate,” Matsui said through an interpreter after yesterday’s game. “The fans will react if you don’t produce.”
He said he had never been booed in Japan, although he did add that he heard the occasional profanity for not producing. There is no equivalent of the waves of derision coming from the seats at Shea Stadium.
“I don’t think it’s rude,” Matsui said. “I think of it as a high expectation level. If I make a hit, they will cheer.”
Matsui seems smaller than his listed size of 5 feet 10 inches and 183 pounds. He somehow seems to have shrunk since the Mets moved him to second base last season. He butchered a sure double-play grounder Friday night that could have cost the game, but yesterday, soon after his triple, he helped turn a double play in heavy traffic, perhaps his grittiest pivot of the season.
He will not blame his troubles on the shift of position. He will not fill up notebooks by reciting his grievances or blasting the fans. Remember when Kevin McReynolds suggested that Mets fans wanted to see failure, to reinforce their miserable view of the world? Matsui comes from another country, another culture, another planet.
“I’m playing in the major leagues, which is different,” he said. “It is a higher level. I think I came to the right place for it. I look on this as another challenge.”