DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Toronto Blue Jays went way off the established baseball map yesterday to sign 36-year-old Jo Matumoto, a Brazilian of Japanese descent to a minor-league contract.
The left-handed pitcher is a long-shot, but if he faces so much as one batter in the major leagues Hollywood won't be far behind.
"We think we've got the makings of a movie," Houston-based agent Randy Hendricks said. "But first, we need a storybook ending."
Hendricks and brother Alan have been among the most powerful player agents for the past 25 years and how they became involved with an unknown like Matumoto is a story in itself. Last November, Matumoto's wife, Maria Fernanda de Luca, sent Hendricks an e-mail asking if he could help get her husband a tryout somewhere -- anywhere -- in baseball.
"The eloquence of Fernanda's letter grabbed me right away," Hendricks said. "It was the kind of story that just captured your heart. This guy trained by himself, throwing a ball against a wall. I wrote back and we started corresponding. Now my brother believes we have adopted them as family."
If you're thinking Brazil isn't exactly a baseball hotbed, you'd be correct. Matumoto played for the Nippon Blue Jays and was the No. 1 pitcher for the Brazilian national team. He also pitched for six years in Japan, from agr 24 until 30, at a level recognized as triple-A.
The past six years he's been back in Brazil, largely invisible to the baseball world. Last year, Matumoto, who has a day job in the computer industry, decided to abandon his big-league dream but now credits his wife with keeping it alive.
Last Monday, Hendricks notified every MLB team Matumoto would be auditioning at a Tampa high school on Wednesday. Scouts from 20 teams showed up, including the Jays' Sal Butera.
"He was very nervous. You can imagine the scrutiny of a young man coming over and having to pitch in front of all these bigwigs with (radar) guns pointed at him," Butera said. "Plus he had a catcher who (missed) two out of every three and didn't make him look very good. He topped out at 84 m.p.h. but I wasn't really looking for velocity. I wanted to see movement. He had some deception and he had movement."
While he is a project, Matumoto is not a long-term one. Once he gets his feet under him, once he gets his arm in shape, he will either have "it" or he won't. At 36, he has a narrow window of opportunity. If he shows something this summer, then the dream could come true.
"I am 36 but I don't feel like 36," he said. "I know my body and I have much more to give."