Last year at this time, Matsuzaka Daisuke was sitting in a Yokohama High
School classroom, a baseball-playing high school senior dealing with things like homework,
baseball practice and getting ready for the upcoming national high school baseball
tournament at Koshien Stadium.
Little did he know at the time that his performance in last year' summer tournament
throwing 250 pitches during a 17-inning complete game victory against perennial high
school power P.L. Gakuen of Osaka, coupled with a storybook encore of pitching a no-hitter
in the Koshien final to give Yokohama High the title would thrust the soft-spoken high
school senior into the media spotlight and put him at the top of the wish list for all of
Japan's pro baseball teams.
Despite stating that he wanted to play for his hometown team, the Yokohama BayStars, the
Seibu Lions won first pick in the draft lottery last year. It was no surprise that the
Lions picked Matsuzaka. Weeks of negotiations followed, with almost nightly reports on
sports programs showing a school-uniformed Matsuzaka meeting with the tailor-suited Lions
officials. Finally, Lions manager Higashio Osamu, himself a pitcher in his playing days,
presented Matsuzaka with the game ball with which Higashio had won his 200th pro game, and
with that gesture (and a hefty contract) Matsuzaka joined the Lions.
Whether it's his boyish good looks, his unflappable nature on the mound or his
close-to-100 mph fastball, Matsuzaka appeals to many fans at many different levels. For
example, women who would not normally be baseball fans have shown an affinity for
Matsuzaka which rivals that of Orix Blue Wave outfielder and veteran baseball heartthrob,
Suzuki Ichiro. Lions spring training this year was a case in point, with many female fans
literally chasing Matsuzaka from the team hotel to the practice field and back again. At
one point, the rest of the Lions pitching staff, led by veteran Tomori Denney, assembled a
mock "Secret Service" ring of protection around Matsuzaka to escort him from his
throng of fans.
When the Lions played their first game at the newly-renovated Seibu Dome against the
Yomiuri Giants in a pre-season matchup, Matsuzaka got the call to start the game. While
the Giants won the game, Matsuzaka looked sharp.
When it counted - when Matsuzaka made his first regular season start at the Tokyo Dome
against the Nippon Ham Fighters - Matsuzaka ignored the hoopla and pitched a solid game to
contribute to a 5-2 Lions win.
Matsuzaka's performance with the Lions to date has lived up to the team's expectations.
Although he has three wins and two losses as of deadline, Matsuzaka's earned run average
(ERA) is at a phenomenal 1.61, second in the Pacific League. Both of Matsuzaka's wins have
come in complete games, and one was a complete game shutout. One of the losses he suffered
earlier this year was a close game against the Chiba Lotte Marines, where he was
out-dueled by veteran pitcher Kuroki Tomohiro in Chiba Lotte's 2-0 win.
Rookie of the year material? Barring any disastrous outings for the rest of the season,
they may as well engrave the Pacific League trophy right now.