Yankees to celebrate Matsui’s career July 28

Hideki Matsui was a big hit with Yankees fans from the moment he stepped foot in Yankee Stadium and hit a grand slam in his debut Opening Day in 2003. The Yankees will pay tribute to the Japanese slugger’s illustrious career in ceremonies July 28 before the 1:05 p.m. game against the Rays, the club for which Matsui ended his time in the major leagues last year.

In order to retire officially as a member of the Yankees organization, Matsui will sign a one-day, minor league contract that day. His parents are also expected to attend the game.

The first 18,000 fans at the game will receive a Hideki Matsui bobblehead – which portrays the slugger with his 2009 World Series Most Valuable Player trophy. In honor of Matsui, who wore uniform No. 55 with the Yankees, the day’s events are to take place on the Yankees’ originally scheduled 55th home game of the 2013 season.

Matsui was also recently honored by the Yomiuri Giants – whom he played for 10 seasons from 1993-2002 – in a ceremony May 5 at the Tokyo Dome. During that event, Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe presented Matsui with the People’s Honor Award, the country’s most prestigious award bestowed on those who have made significant achievements in their careers and are beloved by the public.

Matsui, whose nickname in Japan was “Godzilla,” played 10 seasons in the majors, the first seven with the Yankees from 2003-09 in which he batted .292 with 536 runs, 196 doubles, 11 triples, 140 home runs and 597 RBI in 3,348 at-bats. He was originally signed by the Yankees as a free agent Jan. 14, 2003, following his 10-year career in Tokyo with the Yomiuri Giants.

The two-time All-Star (2003-04) did not miss a game over his first three years with the Yankees. His 518 consecutive games remains the longest streak to start a major-league career. Matsui also drove in at least 100 runs four times, including each of his first three seasons.

In his final game with the Yankees Nov. 4, 2009, Matsui had 3-for-4 with a home run and six RBI in their World Series-clinching Game 6 victory over the Phillies at the Stadium. He tied the single-game World Series RBI record of Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson in 1960 and Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols in 2011 and sealed his unanimous selection as World Series MVP.

Matsui spent a season apiece with the Angels, Athletics and Rays after leaving the Yankees and finished his career with a .282 batting average, 175 home runs and 760 RBI.

“He is extremely deserving of this honor,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “When I think of Hideki, I think of a great player and a great teammate. Even when he was having some problems with his legs in his later years, he would come up with big hits, none bigger than the ones he had in the 2009 World Series.”

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