boston.com Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe
DAN SHAUGHNESSY

With Japanese star, we've seen it all

A few questions:

How does one say "Yahoo" in Japanese? And at what point, precisely, did we become Orlando, Fla.?

We stopped eating and sleeping when Daisuke Matsuzaka flew to Boston to sign his contract back in December. We tracked his flight online. Then our world stood still again when Dice-K arrived at the Red Sox workout complex in Fort Myers, Fla., Tuesday. It was breathlessly reported that he drove himself to the complex. Drove himself. Then he played catch. Played catch.

Yesterday, the $103 million man sat for his first full-blown spring training press conference and NESN (the same network that gave us the Matsuzaka Marathon on signing day) provided live coverage. New England Cable News also cut into regular programming under the banner "Breaking News."

Seated to the left of translator Sachiyo Sekiguchi, in front of a banner that simultaneously promoted the Red Sox and Funai TV & DVD, Matsuzaka took questions for 40 minutes. Once again he was unfailingly polite, poised, relaxed, and confident.

Sox fans have plenty about which to be excited. Ownership rewarded the Nation by bagging the planet's prize free agent pitching prospect. Matsuzaka is in his athletic prime (26), and given good health and the Sox' lineup, he should win 16-18 games if he makes 34 starts.

All that said, it's a little embarrassing the way we're reacting to the introduction of this Japanese hurler. Are we not staid old Boston? Have we not been the professional sports home of Bill Russell, Ted Williams, Larry Bird, Bobby Orr, and Tom Brady? Didn't we already go through the process of acquiring the best pitcher in the world -- a guy from a foreign land -- named Pedro Martínez? Didn't we watch the Red Sox trade for Curt Schilling, who had already been a World Series MVP? Didn't Roger Clemens win 192 games here? Same as Cy Young?

So why is Dice-K, who arrived in Florida the week of the 43d anniversary of the Beatles' first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," touted as the soon-to-be Fenway Elvis?

Why is this so much bigger than the arrival of any other ballplayer in the professional sports history of New England?

Much of it has to do with the international element. There have not been a lot of Japanese players who've successfully made the leap to the major leagues. Another factor, no doubt, is the money. It cost the Sox $51 million just to negotiate with Dice-K, a record posting fee. The idea of a $103 million investment for a player who has never appeared in the majors makes a compelling story line. Lastly, we have the swollen media. A small army covers the Red Sox, and the contingent gets bigger every year. New York reporters have made the Sox the third Gotham team. And now we have a Japanese throng taking hundreds of photographs of every Dice-K windup. Gerry Callahan of the Herald calls it "The Million Cameraman March," which is a line I wish I'd thought up.

Dice-K told us yesterday he "feels a responsibility, but I am not pressured," regarding the weight of his contract. New York guys tried (unsuccessfully) to bait him into talking about the vaunted Yankees and the pressures of pitching in the Bronx.

Some of it was amusing. He was asked what pitch he would throw for his first pitch and answered, "I would love to pitch a fastball, that will be my first ball. I would like my first batter, if he is listening, please try not to hit the ball."

Sekiguchi was doing her best, but you get the feeling there is much lost in translation during these sessions. Matsuzaka said he was in the process of learning English and there were a couple of times when he smiled while a question was being asked in English. Any chance the Dice Man is playing with us?

The conference ended on a great note with a much-anticipated question about the gyroball. Secret weapon or myth? No language barrier on this one. Like arithmetic, "gyroball" is the same in every language. Matsuzaka knew exactly what the American reporter was talking about.

"Hmm. How should I answer that question?" he started. "I knew this question was coming today. And I was preparing some optional answers for this particular question. Should I say, 'I have that ball'? Or I could say, 'Which particular ball are you referring to?' Or 'Which ball are you calling a gyroball?' Overall, if I have the chance, I will pitch that ball."

Ultimately, of course, the words won't matter. Wins. Losses. Quality starts. Innings. Strikeouts. Walks. Those things will matter. And the gyroball, of course.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES