2005-05-20 / Sports

Amazins’ Matsui Doesn’t Give A Boo About the Booing

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

FLUSHING, NY - It’s something that Kaz Matsui is not used to. In Japan, they don’t boo players, neither the visiting nor the home team.

“They don’t boo; they spit out foul words, but no booing,” Matsui said through his interpreter, Nozomu Matsumoto, after a Mets loss last Saturday.

But now he plays in New York and the “Bronx Cheer” - or in this case the “Flushing Finger” - is commonplace for those who don’t perform. “I don’t think it’s rude,” he said. “I take it as an expectation level the fans have for me and if I make a great play, they will cheer. I just take it as an expectation level that the fans have towards me and it pumps me up.”

And that’s what the Mets second baseman is facing. After being moved to a new position and dropped in the batting order to eighth, Matsui has struggled and is only hitting .224 with two homers and 12 RBI. Add to that the trouble adjusting to playing on grass and it’s obvious why the New York crowd is displeased.

“Obviously, I haven’t produced results at the plate and the fans react to that,” Matsui said. When I come through they will cheer. I don’t let it bother me and I just try to go out and play my game.”

Even though he says that the crowd doesn’t distract him, Matsui sometimes seems to be pressing. And he doesn’t feel that he’s in a slump, the switch-hitter says he needs to “practice more to work of the technical and mechanical stuff.”

That’s a far cry from the Japanese All-Star the Mets thought they signed in December 2003. Matsui was on the All Star team in Japan seven times (1997-2003) and also named to Japan’s Best Nine those seasons. He sported a .309 average with 150 homers and 569 RBI for the Seibu Lions in nine seasons, which makes some feel that he may have made a mistake coming to the United States. He doesn’t.

“I came to the Major Leagues to challenge myself and at time I will hit and at times I won’t,” he said. “The reason why I came here is to get to the next challenge and get my game to the next level.”

One reason is the support network the Mets are providing him.

“I think I’m very fortunate to have a great coaching staff, a great manager and great teammates,” Matsui said. “It energizes me that I am in such a great environment.”

The 29 year-old also has fellow countryman Kaz Ishii on the team this season and that has made his adjustment a little easier.

“It is relaxing with Ishii being here,” Matsui said. “We speak the same language and go out to dinner together. It is comforting.”

So Matsui is fighting through the pressure. As long as the second baseman produces, the crowd will back him. And because in the game of baseball, he gets to redeem himself the next day, he doesn’t have to dwell on his failure. “I don’t have the luxury of looking back at my surroundings,” Matsui added. “If I do, it will be inside of me when I go on the field and it will affect me when I play my game. What I try to do is try to get into a good frame of mind every day - day in and day out - because everyday I am out there.”

It really has been an adjustment for him.

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