Fans are loyal to and demanding of sports standouts, but the attention almost never reaches the level of A-list movie stars and musicians. Some may be interrupted at dinner or at the supermarket for an autograph, but their mere presence doesn't bring the paparazzi.
However, it can be different for Major League Baseball players from Japan. Customarily, when a star player arrives, large numbers of television and print outlets assign reporters solely to that player. It's common for the Japanese contingent to outnumber the U.S. reporters that cover the team in general, and the attention continues away from the field. The attention caused a strained relationship between the media and some players, such as the Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki.
But Rockies second baseman Kazuo Matsui came up with a solution: Don't treat the people with the notebooks and cameras as "media." Try to make them your friends. His offer is if they extend him, his wife, Mio, and his daughter, Haruna, their privacy, he'll extend a social invitation. It gives him a chance to make friends who speak his language.
Matsui has carved out a nice life in the U.S. as an accessible celebrity. He lives in the Los Angeles area in the offseason. His trips to Japanese markets for ingredients for cooking still draw notice, but he isn't bothered. In Denver, he has found a down-home Japanese restaurant where he can go for a quiet meal and nice conversation with the couple that run the place.
Matsui, given to diamonds and well-tailored suits, brings an air of flash to the blue jeans-and-boots Rockies. Through his equipment contract, Matsui has some of the most distinctive gear possible while fitting within the team look. The black, long-sleeve performance shirt he wears under his uniform is labeled with his jersey number (7), and his name in Japanese characters vertically stitched down the front. He wears distinctive socks with slots for his toes because, he says, he likes to be able to feel his "foot fingers."
The 2007 season has been Matsui's best wire-to-wire season since signing with the Mets with much fanfare in 2004. It could be that he's finally getting his preferred jersey number. He wore 25 with the Mets and 16 with the Rockies after arriving in a trade late last season. In both cases, he explained, he wanted numbers that added up to seven.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.