During a career that spanned 20 seasons total, Hideki Matsui hit 507 home runs combined between Japan and MLB. He hit 332 homers for the Yomiuri Giants from 1993-2002 before tacking on another 175 in the big leagues from 2003-12, mostly with the Yankees.

Matsui, now 41, retired following the 2012 season because it was time. His skills had eroded and he had bad knees after playing all those year on turf in Japan. Nowadays Matsui holds a front office job with the Yankees, mostly working with minor leaguers.

On his own time, Matsui also played in what amounts to a high-end Sunday recreational league on Randall's Island in New York. After making his name as a left-handed power hitting outfielder, Matsui is a starting pitcher who bats righty in the rec league to make it fair. He also sponsors the team.

Billy Witz of the New York Times has the story:

“He’s not just a baseball player in Japan; he’s like a deity unto himself,” said Reilly, a bond trader for a bank. “We’ve all followed him since our high school days. So whenever he comes to bat, everybody stops.”

Their everyday lives could not be much different. Team Matsui included a corrections officer, a television cameraman, a human resources manager, accountants, bond traders and a hairdresser.

Still, Matsui treated his teammates Sunday as if they were Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. He sat on the bench cheering their at-bats, offered glove taps for nice plays, and tapped his chest when a pitch got away, indicating it was his fault.

Matsui's team won the league championship this past weekend, though only after Matsui hit a batter to force in the tying run in ths sixth inning, on his 96th pitch of the day. Reliever John Zhang entered the game, didn't allow another run, then hit the game-winning single in the 12th inning, earning him MVP honors.

The teams lined up near home plate, and after the umpire, Roy Ehrlich, had the captains sign the scorecard and delivered game balls to Zhang and Hartman, the teams bowed toward each other. A ceremony followed in which players were awarded bags of rice, cases of green tea and soy sauce, with the most valuable player, Zhang, receiving an airline ticket.

Making that presentation was Matsui, who bought the M.V.P. trophy for the Nippon Club in 2003. He spoke in Japanese, congratulating his teammates, complimenting his opponents and noting the difference in the game.

“The only reason our team won is our dugout is in the shade,” he said, drawing a laugh from the crowd, which seemed to have had as much fun as he did.

Japanese-American Association League, as it's called, is an invite-only six-week tournament usually reserved for corporate teams. The Nippon Club, which was founded way back in 1905 as a social club for Japanese expatriates, granted an exception for Matsui.

“The reason he’s here, I think, is a love of baseball,” said Team Matsui coach Kamal Ramani. “I know it sounds crazy, but it’s as simple as that. He loves the game.”

Hideki Matsui now plays in a weekend rec league.
Hideki Matsui now plays in a weekend rec league. (USATSI)