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Hideki Matsui honored at Yankee Stadium after signing one-day contract, retiring

Hideki Matsui stands on the field at Yankee

Hideki Matsui stands on the field at Yankee Stadium after signing retirement papers from the Yankees. (July 28, 2013) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

On his first official day as a Yankee 10 years ago, it was obvious that Hideki Matsui belonged on a grand scale. His introductory news conference was held on Broadway, at the Marriott Marquis, because there was no place inside Yankee Stadium big enough to handle the crowd.

He said, before 28 TV crews and 300 reporters that day in January 2003: "Today has to be one of the happiest days of my life. I will try really hard to bring a World Series championship to this city."

On Sunday, on his last official day as a Yankee -- the 55th home game of the season, with the team having invited him to wear his No. 55 jersey and throw the ceremonial first pitch -- he was equally happy, having accomplished his goal and done much more.

Matsui signed a one-day contract so he could formally retire as a Yankee. He was praised by general manager Brian Cashman, who wore the 2009 World Series ring that Matsui helped earn as the Series' Most Valuable Player.

"I think this moment will be a moment I will never forget," Matsui said Sunday through his longtime translator, Roger Kahlon. The outfielder who was known in Japan as Godzilla for his home run prowess and larger-than-life persona recalled the championship ("It's just an amazing feeling," he said) and his pivotal hit in the Yankees' epic comeback victory over the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. Others recalled his six RBIs in Game 6 of the 2009 World Series. In his Yankee Stadium debut, on April 8, 2003, he hit a grand slam to lead the Yankees to victory.

But the real appeal of Matsui was not only how he stood out; it was how well he fit in. He accepted the pressure and attention with humble aplomb, distinction and smiles.

"He came and he was supposed to be this Godzilla, who hits home runs, but he was a situational hitter," said fellow 39-year-old Derek Jeter, who presented Matsui a framed replica of the No. 55 jersey. "Matsoo moved runners when he had to move them. He got big hits, he drove guys in. He wanted to play every day, and the biggest thing is he never made excuses. You never heard him talk about injuries, which I appreciate. He either played or he didn't play.

"So I enjoyed getting to know him throughout the years," the Yankees' captain said. "He has always been one of my favorite teammates, and he always will be."

Jeter added that his greeting for Matsui was, "Oji-chan," which essentially means "Grandpa" in Japanese.

Joe Girardi said, "You'd have a hard time finding a player in our clubhouse who was more liked than Hideki Matsui . . . His smiles, and all the things he would do, we were able to communicate."

Matsui signed three copies of his one-day contract and retirement papers proffered by team vice president Jean Afterman, who was instrumental in originally signing him. This time, his father, Masao, mother, Saeko, and brother Toshiki were here from Japan to witness the standing ovations.

"I always aspired to be a member of the New York Yankees. To have been able to do that for seven years, every day for me was just an absolute joy," Matsui said.

Recalling that very first day, he added, "Looking back, that was probably the greatest moment in my life."

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