Baseball is back in the Olympics, and Japan rolled out a former Yankees star to celebrate.
Hideki Matsui was one of three Japanese baseball legends who served as torch bearers Friday in Japan National Stadium during the Opening Ceremony for the Tokyo Olympics. Matsui was accompanied by Sadaharu Oh — baseball’s global home run king — and Shigeo Nagashima, who won the Japan Series championship 14 times in a playing and managing career.
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As the Yankees’ production from left fielders and left-handed hitters alike has bottomed out this season, it was easy to picture fans at home watching the 47-year-old Matsui walk the track and wondering whether he still has a quick bat. He spent the first seven of his 10 MLB seasons with the Yankees, and he was a two-time MLB All-Star and 2009 World Series MVP with a reputation as a class act.
Before he arrived in New York with his “Godzilla” nickname, Matsui played for Japan’s most popular franchise, the Yomiuri Giants, from 1993-2002, earning a spot in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. He retired after the 2013 season and later joined the Yankees’ front office as an adviser to general manager Brian Cashman.
Oh had an even more storied career for Yomiuri, as he hit 868 home runs over 22 years, a number that would eclipse Barry Bonds (762) and Hank Aaron (756) at the top of the MLB record book.
Japan and the United States are two of the six teams that will compete in the Olympic baseball tournament when it begins Wednesday. Baseball was last held in the 2008 Summer Olympics.