Hideki Matsui arrived in camp on Friday, settling in with his new surroundings and Angels teammates while greeting familiar faces from the Japanese media. He’s a major figure in his homeland, owing to his time as a slugger with the Yomiuri Giants and a colorful nickname — Godzilla — that he wears well, with grace.
Matsui met the English-speaking media and answered everything we threw his way, patiently and calmly, showing why he is so highly regarded for his professionalism and character on two continents and in two cultures.
When I asked him about the origin of the nickname and how he feels about it, he traced it to his high school days when he homered in a tournament. If he had any questions about it initially, he came to like being known as “Godzilla” when he realized it made a connection with American fans.
Matsui demonstrated his sense of humor on several occasions, notably when he described taking a home run away from Torii Hunter in an all-star series played between American and Japanese stars in 2002.
“We spent some time then getting to know each other,” Matsui said through Roger Kahlon’s translation.
Asked, jokingly, if he found Hunter to be a “jerk,” Matsui smiled.
“He might think I’m the jerk,” he replied. “I caught his home run once.”
There was another occasion when Hunter, known as “Spiderman” for the way he climbs walls to snatch doubles, triples and homers, gave one back to Matsui.
“During the playoffs when he was with the Twins,” Matsui said, “I hit one off his glove and it became a homer.”
Matsui’s locker at Tempe Diablo Stadium is right next to Hunter’s. Two down to the right is the locker Bobby Abreu, Matsui’s old friend from New York, will occupy.
Godzilla should fit right in and feel at home very quickly in that company.