Gift-wrapped boxes, decorated with bows, lay waiting for Hideki Matsui at his locker. The tokens of appreciation from one Arizona fan were just a part of the outpouring awaiting the former Bronx Bomber last night.
The Yankee Stadium crowd cheered for Matsui as if he still was one of their own during his first at-bat and later applauded his two-run, seventh-inning homer off Chan Ho Park in the Angels' 10-2 win.
Matsui said he took a commercial red-eye flight Sunday to enjoy a day off in New York on Monday. He still has an apartment in Manhattan, where he has his World Series ring on display - right next to the fake he was given courtesy of a Derek Jeter prank during the Angels' first visit in April.
Returning to the Bronx also resurrected fond memories of the late George Steinbrenner.
"There were a few occasions here and there where he came down to the clubhouse. Whenever he did, he always was truly a gentleman," Matsui said through translator Roger Kahlon. "Really nice. Pleasant to speak to. Despite the impression that you tend to get through the media, he was always positive and just very nice and just encouraging us. So in that sense, you could say that's the part of Mr. Steinbrenner that I'll remember very well."
Matsui had parted ways with the Yankees, not only as a world champion but also as a World Series MVP. But his near-four months in Anaheim have been less than memorable. The career .288 hitter entered the game on a 4-for-28 skid, and is now hitting .249 with 11 homers and 49 RBIs.
"It's been good. It's been bad. It's been up and down, overall," said Matsui, who signed a one-year deal in December. "But this is a very important part of the season, so hopefully going forward, things will be pretty consistent."
He's already proven he can turn things around during the second half. Last year, Matsui hit .284 with 14 home runs and 50 RBIs after the All-Star break.
But last night, he hit into double plays in each of his first two at-bats. Matsui, however, walked and scored in the sixth before crushing his 11th home run off Park an inning later.
"I don't have a Ouija board out right now, but hopefully it's a good sign," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of Matsui's command of Park's 82-mph changeup. "We have a lot of confidence in what Hideki can do and hopefully, he can contribute the way we know he can."