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Sox fans make trip for Dice-K debut

Sox fans make trip for Dice-K debut

KANSAS CITY -- Ro Arrington was shocked.

Standing under the second level at Kauffman Stadium, he looked at the masses of fans waiting along the third-base line Thursday afternoon to watch Daisuke Matsuzaka warm up for his Major League debut.

It was a wave of people -- five-deep in some places -- that stretched from the left-field foul pole past the dugout. Some fans were wearing Matsuzaka jerseys, while others were sporting gigantic signs with "Dice-K" or Japanese lettering written in large, bold print. Fans were also recording every moment with handheld cameras.

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More than 12 television cameras and 20 photographers were forming lines at two ends of the dugout.

"This guy hasn't even thrown a pitch yet," Arrington said.

At 12:20 p.m. CT, Matsuzaka, wearing a Red Sox jacket, walked out of the dugout to the clicks of several dozen lenses and the applause of the hundreds of fans who had stood outside for hours in freezing weather to witness his first big-league start.

Arrington, a native of Little Rock, Ark., and a long-time Red Sox and baseball fan, was one of thousands who traveled to Kansas City for the game. He drove seven hours to watch one of the most impressive debuts in baseball history in a 4-1 Red Sox win.

"I wasn't going to miss this," Arrington said.

Neither were 23,106 other fans. Kauffman usually draws about 15,000 for every non-Opening Day game, but Thursday was a different story. The attendance -- which included a line of several hundred people waiting outside for tickets three hours before the start of the game -- was actually less than the third game of the 2006 season (23,204), but outdrew all but 13 home games from last year.

Dan Sinkiewicz and his wife were two of those fans. Native New Englanders, the two were in southern Kansas for Easter and drove four hours Thursday morning to witness history. Sinkiewicz taped Matsuzaka walking onto the field with a handheld camera.

"If it was like Tim Wakefield pitching and I love Wakefield -- and I love to watch the Sox -- but to get to see Matsuzaka's debut, we had to be here," he said.

Rick Boudreau and his family also changed their daily life for the contest. They always attend one game when the Red Sox come to Kansas City. Instead of picking ace Curt Schilling on Opening Day or Josh Beckett on Wednesday night, the family chose Matsuzaka's start.

"When he had a chance to pitch this game, we chose this one," Boudreau said.

On Wednesday night, his son took a piece of cardboard and drew a large, black die and a big K. Underneath, he wrote, in Japanese lettering, "Thank you Japan."

The next morning, the Boudreau family, with the big cardboard sign, took their two sons out of school and drove 90 minutes to Kauffman for the game. Bourdeau whistled loudly and showed his son's sign when Matsuzaka walked onto the field.

Mike Naujanas stood about 20 yards from the Boudreaus. The New England native started following Matsuzaka over a year ago, following his every start in the World Baseball Classic and catching clips on YouTube.

"I love how he throws the ball, and I love his mechanics," Naujanas said. "I was extremely excited."

After the right-hander signed with his beloved Red Sox, Naujanas immediately bought a Seibu Lions (Matsuzaka's former team) and started making plans to attend his debut. The trip to Kansas City almost fell through, but Matsuzaka proved the difference.

"Daisuke was a lock," he said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

As Matsuzaka took his warmup pitches in the bullpen, Naujanas -- wearing his powder blue Seibu hat, red long-sleeved T-shirt and Red Sox jersey -- offered a prediction for the right-hander's first start.

Naujanas asked for a quality start and Red Sox win. After a quick pause, he added two more: "maybe with 10 strikeouts, or at least get a couple people flaying at least a foot away from the ball," he said with a smile.

Matsuzaka went 4-for-4, impressing fans and media with his vast assortment of pitches. After allowing a leadoff single to David DeJesus, the right-hander cruised for nearly the entire start, drawing applause from the crowd after several strikeouts.

Overall, the right-hander struck out exactly 10, allowed one run in seven innings and forced several Royals into awkward swings. It was the first time a rookie had amassed a double-digit strikeout performance in his debut since Aaron Harang on May 25, 2002, allowing the thousands of fans to take home memories.

Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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