Last Saturday, the Matsui 55 Baseball Foundation hosted a baseball clinic for ten to twelve-year-olds in Staten Island, NY. It was a perfect day for baseball; sunny, but not too hot, and cloudy, but not overcast. The Richmond County Bank Ballpark provided a beautiful view of Manhattan in the background. Matsui brought over some employees from Japan, including executive producer and co-founder Takaaki Shirai, as well as Court Honda (who was at his first Matsui 55 baseball clinic). They both set up registration with ease and reunited with the other employers. It was as if there was a big family reunion, and this was a surprisingly accurate first impression. Shirai had known Matsui for years in Japan, while Honda had an internship for the Staten Island Yankees during college, and became friends with Matsui there. Besides Shirai and Honda, Matsui had a personal catcher to throw with him (also named Hideki), a personal translator, and a former minor leaguer who pitched against Matsui in a company baseball game. In short, Matsui hired a tight-knit staff that he knows personally.
There was certainly an easy-going atmosphere that almost downplayed the mind-blowing situation that the former 2009 World Series MVP was there at the ballpark. Besides the family-like relationship of Matsui’s staff, a dog that joyously ran across the field before the kids arrived; something you really would not expect on a baseball field. Even when the kids arrived only the parents were situated in the stands, so hundreds of seats were left unoccupied. The kids themselves didn’t scream in sheer joy, or talk excitedly as they entered the baseball field, or when saw Matsui for the first time. They just ran down the steps onto the field and were ready to play baseball. It was just another day playing baseball for them. Perhaps it was that type of mindset that was able to absorb the information given by Matsui and the coaches. Not a single child complained, and everyone was there to enhance their baseball skills.
The children were separated into different defensive groups: infielders, pitchers and catchers, and outfielders. The infielders worked on their backhand, the pitchers learned how to throw a changeup, the catchers blocked the ball to the best of their ability, and the outfielders learned how to get behind the ball.
Matsui went to visit every group. With each movement the media there watched Matsui like a hawk, eyeballing where he would go next, trying to capture the best angle of him. There should be a more efficient way to capture good pictures of Matsui than to constantly pick up the camera equipment, and migrate over to the next location. Nonetheless, the media worked with what they had, and silently, yet swiftly moved from one place to the next.
When Matsui went to each group, he gave the children some advice. He told the infielders to be in a good position to receive the cutoff throw from the outfielders and to be at a slight angle to transfer the ball quicker. During his talk with the pitchers and catchers, Matsui talked about how pitchers need to have repeatable mechanics and hit their spots, whereas the catchers need to be leaders on the field. Finally, Matsui went to his normal position in the outfield, and man was he fun to watch. He was showing the kids how to get behind the baseball in the outfield, and how to do a correct cro-hop, and always hustled to the ball. One time the coach rolled him a ground ball that stopped dead in front of Matsui’s tracks. Matsui still ran in, and gloved the ball, before showing off a perfect cro-hop.
Matsui seemed to be involved with the kids wherever he could. He threw batting practice to the kids when they split off into hitting groups, held a Q&A session, and ran and stretched with them during the warmups. Also, when there was nothing to do, Matsui took dry hacks as both a righty and as a lefty and constantly practiced his throwing motion whenever he had the opportunity. Even after being retired for several years, Matsui still has a passion to play baseball, just as pure as the kids on the baseball field.
However, the most exciting part of the whole clinic was when Matsui took batting practice. Before stepping up to the plate, he asked the kids, “How many homers will I hit?” “All of them!” “Not all of them!” “Five!” The correct answer ended up being two, but with every powerful stroke, the kids and the coaches cheered, hoping that Matsui can clear the right-field bleachers. On one of his last swings, Matsui thought he hit one out and even gave a little bat flip. However, the ball missed going over the fence by about three feet. The whole crowd urged Matsui to keep going, so he obliged and went right back to work.
Despite working up a sweat, Matsui made time to speak to the media and even answered a couple of questions. The two questions were: How was the transition from being a professional baseball player to running the Matsui 55 Baseball foundation and what is the biggest takeaway for the kids during this baseball clinic. Matsui (whose translator converted to English) said something like this, “The transition was smooth. I just wanted to give back to my community and spread my passion for baseball. I hope the kids continue to express their passion for baseball and to learn something new from today’s event.”
Well, Matsui’s desire to share his passion for baseball certainly came true. He brought along staff members that love baseball, love Matsui, and eager to teach as well as being patient with the children. Meanwhile, Matsui’s organization created a peaceful atmosphere that made the kids truly focus on getting better at baseball for a few hours. Although Matsui retired years ago, his love for baseball inspires many from his career-defining lefty swing to sitting down and answering questions from young baseball players.