One of the most enchanted spectators at the 1999 World Series in Atlanta was a young Japanese pitcher named Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Seibu Lions had sent their 19-year-old rookie sensation to the series as a reward for a season in which he led his league with 16 wins (16-5, 2.60 ERA). "I could smell the field from the seats and imagined how great it would be if I were standing on the field," he recalls. "I wanted to get back there soon."
Seven years later, after compiling a 108-60 record in Japan, Matsuzaka will now fulfill his dream of pitching on the biggest stage of all, Major League Baseball. But the hard-throwing, 26-year-old right-hander could never have imagined that he would return to such fanfare--and at a price that matches his yen to pitch in America. The Boston Red Sox has made Matsuzaka a $100 million man--$51 million to his former team and $52 million over six years to him.
Since Hideo Nomo set off "Nomomania" with the L.A. Dodgers in 1995, a steady stream of Japanese stars has crossed over with terrific results, and this year's inaugural World Baseball Classic proved to be a showcase for Japanese talent. Japan took home the title--and Matsuzaka the MVP award after winning all three of his starts. Now the man they call "D-Mat" faces a real challenge: all he's being asked to do is to simultaneously fulfill the dreams of two of the world's most passionate baseball nations--Japan and Red Sox.