TORONTO - Hideki Matsui arrived in Toronto on March 30, 2003, the eve of his first major-league game.
The Toronto newspapers were full of the usual pre-opening night fanfare.
In addition to the season-opener ads was an ugly one.
The Blue Jays paid for print ads of a New York Yankees cap with bird droppings on it.
And in honour of Matsui’s North American arrival “Boo Matsui” was written in Japanese under the cap.
Now, nine seasons later, zero such offensive ads will be in any of the daily Toronto or national bugles Tuesday as Matsui and the Oakland Athletics face the Jays at the Rogers Centre.
“In our culture we do not boo at baseball games,” a Japanese friend of mine told me that night. “It would be like putting an ad in a Toronto paper which read: ‘Come to the game, Throw batteries at players.’ ”
That marketing arm of the Jays has since been severed.
Matsui’s sixth homer of the season last month against Detroit Tigers’ Duane Below was the 500th of his career, including in Japan.
“It’s not like I was aiming for 500,” Matsui told reporters through interpreter Roger Kahlon. “I look at the record in Japan and here as totally separate.”
The 500-homer club has been reached by 25 big-leaguers and eight in Japan, but Matsui is the lone hitter who has to add his totals.
The first 10 seasons of his career were played for the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s Nippon Professional League, where he combined power and average earning the nickname Godzilla.
He hit 332 home runs, knocked in 889 runs with a lifetime .304 average and was a three-time MVP.
When Ichiro Suzuki was collecting 200-hit seasons with the Seattle Mariners, he was mostly sullen dealing with the Japanese media, often forcing the writers to send a pool reporter to interview him.
Matsui, on the other hand, embraced the experience, answering questions from one and all.
Some nights he would take a TV crew from Japan for drinks, another night he would take ball scribes.
Matsui played seven seasons with the Yankees, including a 2009 World Series championship, was with the Los Angeles Angels last year, and now, as an Oaklander, arrives white-hot after a two-homer game Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays, giving him 11 on the season.
In his first game, opening night 2003, Matsui singled as the Yankees, behind Roger Clemens, beat the Jays and Roy Halladay 8-4.
When fans left the park that night they were not talking about Clemens, Halladay or Matsui. Instead it was the third-inning play on which Derek Jeter attempted to go first-to-third on a hit-and run play and was tagged out by catcher Ken Huckaby. Jeter was injured and left the game.
The only Jays still active in the majors who appeared in that game: Vernon Wells (Angels), Eric Hinske (Braves), Orlando Hudson (Padres) and Halladay (Phillies).