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Hideki Matsui speaks on Derek Jeter, current Yankees

Hideki Matsui at the Global Citizens Initiative event in Greenwich, Conn., on May 24

So many times, established foreign born players who come over to the U.S. fail to live up to the hype in the big leagues. The level of play in the major leagues is so high, that the adjustment can sometimes be hard — even impossible.

But for Hideki Matsui — while he didn’t approach the 50-plus home runs he hit with the Yomiuri Giants, not only did he adjust to the MLB —  he etched his name in Yankees and baseball history forever. Matsui enjoyed his time in New York City so much that he now makes it his full-time home.

Matsui was recently the keynote speaker at the Greenwich Field Club in nearby Greenwich, Conn. In conjunction with the Global Citizens Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization which aims to empower young global citizens from all sectors of society to be lifelong leaders of change, Matsui gave a brief presentation titled “What It Means To Be A Champion” about his experience in baseball and how his charity — the Matsui 55 Baseball Foundation — is similar to the GCI. Matsui mentioned how Joe Torre, Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter were all influential figures during his career.

Afterwards, Matsui spoke on going back to Yankee Stadium, Jeter and the baby bombers who have helped put the Yankees in first place in the AL East.

Whenever Matsui goes back to the Bronx, he routinely gets one of the loudest ovations, similar to when he was introduced at Derek Jeter Night back on May 14. Yankee fans remember the years of clutch hits and his torrid 2009 World Series, so they’re quick to remind him of their appreciation. Matsui said the feeling is mutual.

“Time has passed. Even my memories have kind of faded away a little bit,”  said Matsui through an interpreter. “There’s nothing but appreciation that I have that the fans still remember, and they still appreciate my time with the Yankees. It’s a great feeling.”

Even though there was a language barrier, Matsui became close with Jeter. The two shared a burning desire for winning, and both were team-first guys. When asked what he remembers most about Jeter as a teammate, Matsui said it was difficult to describe in just a few words.

“He has both sides. He’s very extreme. Extreme in the sense that he’s a superstar, yet he is very approachable and very considerate,” said Matsui, who in his own right was treated like a rockstar in his native Japan. “I think that’s an amazing part of hm and an amazing characteristic of his that makes him very attractive as a human being and as a player.”

In 2015, Matsui was named as a special advisor to GM Brian Cashman. In this role, Matsui has worked with young players in all minor league levels. With the 2017 Yankees relying so heavily on youth, Matsui said he knew the talent was there for the baby bombers, he just didn’t know success would come this early.

“It’s been actually a very pleasant surprise. I’ve always known that they have the potential — the ability was there,” he said. “Not to take away anything from all the hard work that they have been doing all these years towards that, to get those results. But it’s been a pleasant surprise.” The Yankees still have more prospects on the way, and Matsui no doubt will have an impact on them as well.

Matsui will forever be remembered as a Yankee, even though he played with the Angels, A’s and Rays after his tenure in the Bronx. After all, he did retire as a Yankee in 2013 in a special ceremony at the Stadium. Godzilla was the perfect fit on those teams in the mid to late 2000’s, and he became a fan favorite because of his head-down, go-to-work attitude. His desire to remain connected to the franchise speaks volumes, and the Yankees are better off because of it.