Dice-K Showcases Endearing Personality

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Daisuke Matsuzaka revealed Thursday that his first pitch to a spring training opponent will be a fastball. He also revealed a side of his personality that could endear him to Red Sox fans even before he throws that pitch.

"I would like my first batter, if he is listening," Matsuzaka said with a grin, "please, try not to hit that ball."

Funny at times, direct at others and diplomatic always, Boston's new Japanese star held his first formal spring training news conference Thursday from a seat on top of the third-base dugout at overcast City of Palms Park.

The location gave the media members _ numbering about 100 people _ plenty of room. Nine television satellite trucks were stationed outside the park. The session was telecast live in Japan, where it was 7 a.m. Friday when it began.

Matsuzaka worked out in southern California before flying into Tampa, 130 miles to the north, on Monday night.

Pitchers and catchers hold their first official workout on Sunday and are bound to be asked about their new teammate, considering his outstanding pitching in Japan and the $52 million contract the Red Sox gave him. They also paid his old team, the Seibu Lions, $51.1 million for his rights.

"If I see somebody particular being disturbed or bothered with the presence of the media," Matsuzaka said through an interpreter, "I honestly apologize to those people."

But the 26-year-old right-hander isn't surprised at all the attention he's received. After all, he's gotten plenty since his senior year at Yokohama High School where he pitched a no-hitter in the title game of the national tournament. The next season, at age 19, he struck out Ichiro Suzuki the first three times they faced off and he was selected Pacific League rookie of the year.

"The first year when I played professionally in Japan, the first spring training, many members of the media showed up, so I am not surprised" at Thursday's turnout on a day when it rained off and on.

He took 25 questions _ some in English, others in Japanese _ and gave each some thought before answering in a calm, deliberate voice with an occasional twinkle in his eye.

Like when he was asked about teammate Tim Wakefield's knuckleball.

"If I can keep my form and still can pitch a knuckleball, it will be very advantageous for me," said Matsuzaka, who already has four outstanding pitches he can control. "I tried that (working out) in Los Angeles, but it didn't work. So now I guess I'll keep it on the side."

He wouldn't want to upstage Wakefield or other teammates and plans to adjust from being a huge star in his home country to part of a team in Boston.

"I played in Japan eight years," he said, "but it's my first year as a rookie here in the United States, in the major leagues, so I would stay humble."

He is learning English, is looking forward to meeting all his teammates and already has found many of them "cheerful."

Matsuzaka said he won't abandon what has worked _ even pitches high in the strike zone that contributed to his success.

"I have no plans to change," he said with one of the many smiles he flashed during the season.

In his eight pro seasons, all with Seibu, he was 108-60 with a 2.95 ERA. Last season, he was 17-5 with a 2.13 ERA, 200 strikeouts and 34 walks in 186 1-3 innings.

Seated not far from the mound he'll pitch on, Matsuzaka said he was physically ready for his first bullpen session on Sunday. If he were in Japan, his fourth such session would be taking place about that time, he said.

"The scale of the contract does not determine how I play baseball," he said. "I feel responsibility a little bit, but I am not pressured."

He said he hasn't been told what it's like to pitch in front of booing fans at Yankee Stadium, home of Boston's biggest rival.

"I haven't heard anything about it from my teammates," Matsuzaka said, "But I am looking forward to it.
"I have received a lot of expectations all my life but I always remember the most important thing for me is to play ball and have fun," Matsuzaka added. "And I have done so and I will keep doing so and by doing so I will meet everybody's expectations."

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