POV: What can students learn from playing baseball?
Hideki Matsui: I think you can learn many things from baseball. [One of them] is establishing a relationship of trust between teammates. My high school teammates are still my close friends. Especially in Japan, there’s a lot of emphasis on proper conduct and salutations in sports. There’s also the system of seniors and juniors; the spirit of perseverance — not giving up until the very end; the joy of winning and the bitterness of losing. I think you can learn a number of things through baseball. I think that’s what it means when people say baseball is a part of the educational system.
POV: So what was it like for you the first time that you stepped onto the field at Koshien for the tournament?
Matsui: I’d been dreaming of it since childhood, so I was extremely nervous on one hand, and overjoyed on the other. There was the emotional aspect that I’d held since childhood, and the nervousness of standing there for the first time.
POV: A lot of high school teams in Japan practice 11 months a year, 6 hours a day, 6 days a week. What do you think is the reason for so much practice?
Matsui: For us, that was normal, so it wasn’t that painful. It’s not that long. I mean it’s from after class around 3 p.m. until the sun sets. We accepted it as normal, so it wasn’t a problem for us. And it was by repeating lots of different kinds of training that I was able to advance technically and mentally. I think that’s how you improve both technically and emotionally.
POV: Can you compare what it was like to play in the Koshien tournament and what it is like to play for the Yankees?
Matsui: There was excitement and nervousness involved in both, but the biggest difference is my age. When I went to Koshien for the first time, I was 16. I didn’t have much experience, and I was very nervous. When I came [to New York], I was 28. By then, I’d experienced many things since childhood and played professionally in Japan for 10 years. I was definitely excited and nervous, but I was also able to move at my own pace and keep calm. That’s a difference that comes with age.
POV: What did it feel like when you were at Koshien — did you feel a lot of pressure, and how did you deal with that?
Matsui: Yes, I’m not sure about pressure, but I did feel very nervous. It’s high school students playing in the best stadium in Japan, so I think everyone feels a little nervous. You can’t conquer it, you just have to play your best and concentrate. You can’t control the environment, so it just comes down to concentrating and doing the things you can control well. That’s what I tried to keep in mind.
POV: When you were younger you were very good in sumo and judo as well. What made you choose to play baseball?
Matsui: That’s easy. My junior high school didn’t have a judo or sumo club. There was no choice. There was only baseball.