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HOPING FOR MATSUZAKA

An Asian corner of Sox nation all abuzz

There was palpable excitement yesterday on a stretch of Beacon Street near Fenway Park, where the local bakery serves Japanese delicacies, lunch menus are heavy on sushi, and the wine shop stocks 37 types of sake.

The news that the Olde Towne Team might secure the 26-year-old Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka triggered an enthusiastic buzz that spread throughout Red Sox Nation, with fans debating whether he could pull the team out of its recent doldrums , whether the price would be too high, and whether his nickname should be "D-Mat," "Haz-Mat," or "the Gun from the Rising Sun." But fans in this particular sliver of the city, there was an additional factor of pride.

"We're crazy about it," gushed Kaz Uemura, a 27-year-old sushi chef at Ginza who came to Boston six years ago from Osaka, Japan. He said he pays attention to the Red Sox now, but if Matsuzaka signed he would be an ardent fan. The acquisition, he said, would surely boost devotion to the Sox in Boston's Japanese-American community.

Over Sapporo beer and tempura, diners at the restaurant chatted excitedly about the prospect of one of the best players in Japan taking the mound in Boston. Many ticked off the names of Major League players from Japan. Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners and Hideki Matsui of the New York Yankees are two standouts. That's just what the Red Sox need right now, some said.

"It could boost the morale, given that they've had such a bad two years," said Sue Lee, a graduate student who is Chinese but says when it comes to baseball -- and food -- she is "closet Japanese."

Even among some Asians whose heritages or interests aren't connected to Japan, enthusiasm seemed to run high. Bambang Adiwijaya said he would be excited to take his 2-year-old daughter, Frances, to watch the Japanese star at Fenway. "I think he seems to be a great pitcher," said Bambang, who is Indonesian and took his family to eat at Ginza yesterday.

A few doors away, a newspaper featuring Matsuzaka's picture was spread across a table inside the Japonaise Bakery and Cafe, where Jackie Chui was serving doughnuts filled with an, or red-bean paste. Chui hasn't followed baseball much, but said that would change if Matsuzaka came to town. "I would definitely pay extra attention to how he's doing," said Chui, 20, who is Chinese and a student at Wentworth Institute of Technology.

The Red Sox outbid other Major League teams this week for the chance to sign Matsuzaka and have until Dec. 15 to reach a deal. The team will have to pay the Seibu Lions $51.1 million if they are successful. Sox manager Terry Francona, who appeared yesterday at a middle school in Lunenburg to talk about the value of math, would not elaborate on the recruiting effort, but said, "That's going to be big math."

Some students at the event wondered whether the money pledged to secure Matsuzaka could have been better spent. "I think they could probably spend the money giving it to, like, charities, or something," said 13-year-old Shawn Sanford. "If he's that great, it's good if it can bring them to another championship. It seems like a ton of money just for one guy."

Suzanne Chapdelaine, 13, on the other hand, said Matsuzaka would help diversify the team, and, in turn, Red Sox Nation. "A lot of the Red Sox players are Caucasian, and I think it's good for them to have a pitcher of a different ethnicity," she said.

Matsuzaka wouldn't be the first Asian player on the Sox, whose bullpen recently featured Korean Byung-Hyun Kim, who pitched for the team in 2003 and 2004, and Japanese righthander Hideo Nomo, who signed as a free agent in 2001 and left after one season. Neither performed quite on the level many hope that Matsuzaka might. Several baseball industry insiders this week said Matsuzaka is the best pitcher on the market, and one said he may end up being the best in baseball.

None of that matters much to Noyuri Mitsuhashi, president of the Japanese student association at Boston University. She just wants the opportunity to watch Matsuzaka play again. Mitsuhashi remembers seeing him pitch at a high school tournament in her native Japan.

"I remember I was so amazed about his consistent and confident play," she said. "If Matsuzaka comes to play here, I believe his play will bring more Japanese and Asian tourists and generate income for the city of Boston, as well as the Red Sox and Major League Baseball. "

Some said Matsuzaka's arrival in Boston would broaden the Sox fan base in Japan, where Yankees fans are more common because of regular broadcasts.

There also may be marketing possibilities closer to home. At The Wine Press in Brookline, where the 37 kinds of sake are for sale, manager Shannon Kelley was already dreaming up possibilities in the event the pitcher is signed.

"What goes better with 'Zaka than sake?" she said.

Adrienne Samuels of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack@globe.com.

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