Matsuzaka Welcomed

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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

The ink is just now drying on Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka's contract with the Boston Red Sox. There's been a lot of cross-continental intrigue over the past few days, building up to today's deadline for the signing. Even though he had little leverage, in that the Red Sox had bought sole rights to his potential contract, his mystique loomed large during these negotiations. And the Japanese notion of respect predictably ruled. Matsuzaka made clear to his American agent that he needed to feel personal respect from the Red Sox... and he needed the Red Sox to demonstrate how much respect the American Major Leagues have for Japanese players and the game they bring across the Pacific.

Technically, the respect Matsuzaka was shown adds up to $103 million over six years. The ace who was last spring's World Baseball Classic's Most Valuable Player will pull in, for both himself and his former Japanese Club, about $17 million per year. That's a wholloping healthy dose of both American and Japanese-style respect, wouldn't you say... $17 million a year?

But one Red Sox star bowed and demonstrated his respect for Matsuzaka in a highly non-American way as well. The warrior pitcher hero of Red Sox Nation, Curt Schilling, got himself a tutor and decided to learn Japanese in honor of both Matsuzaka and recently acquired Hideki Okajima. Matsuzaka is a Babe Ruthian big deal in Japan and Shilling figured it would be rude to isolate him among his few Japanese colleagues at Fenway and make him struggle up to speed in English before getting to know his non-Japanese-speaking teammates.

Centuries into our society's melting pot evolution, welcoming generation after generation of immigrants, Americans ironically have neither the patience nor the grace to learn the languages of new neighbors from the Phillipines or China or Nigeria. We don't even make a dedicated effort to learn Spanish, despite the census figures that paint a picture of a very Latino United States just a few years down the road. But a multi-millionaire fast-track athlete in sports-crazed Bean Town, where a big name jock could easily get the idea that he is the veritable center of the Universe, is taking the time to learn Japanese so that his new teammate will feel welcomed and respected when he attempts assimilate at Fenway Park? Now, there's a personal bow of respect that will probably mean as much to Matsuzaka as the 6-year deal.

A quick comment on the NFL. Tonight the 49ers play the Seahawks in one of the Thursday night games that are broadcast only on the NFL Network. Trouble is millions of us die-hard NFL junkies don't get the NFL Network. I not only don't get it. I can't even pay for it. My carrier, Time Warner, is feuding with the Network and won't work with them. Warning: Remember the days when we the mass public knew the boxing personalities of the day? The virtual man on the street could rattle off at least the lead names. Sugar Ray Leonard. Roberto Duran. Joe Frazier. Larry Holmes. Thomas Hearns. Then came 'pay-per-view.' You couldn't gain access to even a major fight unless a bunch of you hooked up at maybe $50 each and brought the fight into one of your homes on a Friday night. But pay-per-view wore us down and, thirty-some years later, boxing is basically irrelevant to the American public. This past weekend two championship fights went down, one heavyweight and one middleweight. Any idea who stepped into the ring? No, you wouldn't. It's just too much to ask that we call and arrange to pay for a weekend broadcast. Only the hard-core boxing fans remain true to the sport. Is this a forecast of the NFL's broadcast future? Will it be long before you've got to sit down with pen, paper, and credit card to order your week's NFL games? Maybe this is the way we will watch all sports on television. Call me old school. Significant sporting events, whether it be Wimbledon or a marquee fight or a weekly NFL match-up, should be readily available over the networks or basic cable air waves.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.



Diana Nyad