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US Baseball: Struggling NY Mets Hope for Lift from Japanese Player


The New York Mets baseball team has added a new player to its roster for next season, Japanese infielder Kazuo Matsui. The Mets hope the seven-time Japanese All-Star will give a much-needed boost to the struggling team.

Kazuo Matsui has signed a three-year deal with the Mets worth $20 million. He was all smiles as put on his new Mets jersey and introduced himself at a news conference in Manhattan.

"Hello everyone. My name is Kaz Matsui. I love New York," he said.

Kazuo Matsui, who goes by the nickname, "Kaz," is a 28-year-old shortstop from Osaka, Japan. He batted .305 and hit 33 home runs last season for the Seibu Lions.

Kaz Matsui is not related to Japanese rightfielder Hideki Matsui, who plays for the city's other home team, New York Yankees. But Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he hopes Kaz Matsui will bring the Mets just as much success.

"Last year I welcomed another Matsui to the Big Apple, and the Yankees went all the way to the World Series," he said. "So I certainly hope that history repeats itself. I have a commitment to the people of New York City to do what my predecessor did and deliver a Subway Series, so you better do it for us. We really need this."

The mayor is not the only one with high expectations. The losing Mets have been a disappointment to fans recently. Last season, the Mets had the second highest payroll in all of baseball, and dished out a total of over $110 million to their players, but still ended the season at the bottom of their division. Injuries to several key players during the season left the Mets struggling, and desperately in need of a strong batter near the top of the lineup.

Kaz Matsui is a switch hitter who drew America's attention when he hit .440 during an eight-game All-Star series between Japanese and U.S. players last year. In one of those games, Matsui hit home runs from both sides of the plate.

He led the Japanese Pacific League in hits twice and in stolen bases three times during his nine-year playing career.

Mets general manager Jim Duquette says Matsui's combination of power hitting and solid defense is just what the team needs.

"Our plan from the beginning of this off-season was to get younger, more athletic, acquire more speed throughout the team and improve our pitching and defense, especially our defense up the middle," he said. "The signing of Kaz Matsui fits perfectly with that plan and is a huge first step toward improving our club."

Many players from Japan, especially pitchers, have signed to Major League teams in the United States over the past several years, but Kaz Matsui is the first infielder to do so. He is also the sixth Japanese player in history to join the Mets.

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