Tom Brady x Hideki Matsui:
I went to a football game this past weekend.
This week, I’ll tell you about it through 5 stories.
Today is Tom Brady x Hideki Matsui – “A story of 7/20/2009 and the Magic of a Final Goodbye..”
What are some of the greatest moments you could see in sports? In baseball those could be going to a perfect game/no-hitter or getting to see a walk-off hit. In basketball that may be watching your favorite player score 50 points. In football, it could be watching a quarterback throwing for 6+ touchdowns. I’ve been lucky to go to one of these games.
I’ve written about the game on 07/20/2009 before for the blog, though never in long form. Usually it’s a short “I was at that game” for a Tuesday Discussion or as a note in passing. However, the recent football game I went to really had me looking back at what I got to see.
So, let’s set the stage.
It’s July 20th, 2009. I am 10 years old and I know that I am headed to the Bronx that night to go to a Yankees game. I was very fortunate that my Dad had a small season ticket package. And while those were for seats in the last row of the upper deck, those seats were in section 420B and also directly behind home plate. We picked these seats on purpose because they were great! Now, I’ve had the privilege of sitting right next to the Yankees bench when a friend took me to a game and let me tell you: those old, cheapo seats we used to have were the best. You could stand up whenever you’d want. There were no fans behind you to block their view. You could run around the upper row. There were no fans near you to bother. You didn’t need cover when it rained because of the awning, you got to see every bit of action on the field, and I got to be there with my Dad. There is a different amount of fun of going to a ballgame and going with your Dad. (I guess this is matched in your adult years when going to a game with your kid. I look forward to those days.)
In addition to going to the game with my Dad, I also had my grandparents on my Mom’s side- Grammy and Poppy- coming to the game with me. When I first started going to Yankee games with them we used to go to this Puerto Rican restaurant just up the street, “Molino Rojo”. It was a cramped, old, little place in a strip but I loved it. It was filling food and every time we would go my Dad would tell stories of seeing various Yankees at the place over the years. However, when the new Yankee Stadium opened up a new tradition started as well of going to the diner that was just up the street from there. It was definitely a little cleaner and a little nicer of a place to sit, and they had good enough food, but there definitely was a vibe lost there. But, Grammy and Poppy liked it better.
However, the food outside the stadium in baseball just doesn’t matter that much. It’s something to eat before you get into the stadium and enjoy a hot dog during a late summer night with a nice cold soda to wash it down.
The game on July 20th, 2009 was my third adventure into the new Yankee Stadium. The first came with my Dad and both my older brothers when we got into the stadium through a family friend who worked for Turner Construction as they were building it in 2007. The other time was back on April 30th- also with my Dad and both brothers- as the Yankees won 7-4 over the Los Angeles Angels. Now, I really can’t say much about that first game or even the play-by-play details of the game in July from my perspective. Much of the events of the game has been lost in my brain to remember better things to come. Reading the box score will spoil the story, so let me quickly paint over the canvas to get to the good part.
The Baltimore Orioles (41-51) had come up to the Bronx to play the Yankees (55-37) as David Hernandez would face off against Andy Pettitte. And, as luck would have it the Orioles quickly got out ahead with a run in the first inning after a Nick Markakis home run. Though, the Yankees did quickly respond with an Eric Hinske solo home run of his own in the bottom of the 2nd inning. Then, the game got tight.
David Hernandez went a strong 6 innings for the Orioles, allowing just 3 hits and 3 walks while holding the Yankees to that one run. Mark Hendrickson came in to relieve him and kept the Yankees scoreless in his lone perfect inning of work and Jim Johnson came in with a perfect inning of his own in the 8th.
Andy Pettitte went a strong 7.1 innings for the Yankees, allowing just 6 hits and 2 walks while striking out 8. Phil Coke replaced him with a perfect inning of his own, and Alfredo Aceves walked just 1 during his 0.2 innings of work in the top of the 9th.
Now, at this time my Grammy- and I love her dearly, but unfortunately this is true- wanted to leave the game. It was nearing 9:30 PM and we knew we’d have an hour in the car (or more) to get back home with the “Yankee traffic”. However, with Alex Rodriguez leading off the next inning the stadium was getting loud and roudy. People knew something good was coming. I myself had this feeling and was pleading to my Dad and grandparents to stay. I got my wish and we stayed. But, I was hoping for something other than everybody else in the stadium.
Up steps Alex Rodriguez. After a first pitch strike, he grounded out to second. The stadium went a little quiet. But, I got the first part of my wish.
Up to the plate next came Hideki Matsui.
Yes, the most pivotal part of the story is coming up. Yes, I’m taking you out of the moment I’ve been building. But, I need to explain to you how much Hideki Matsui meant to me (and still does).
I started watching baseball the second I could understand that there was a sport on TV. I’m going to say this was probably around 2000 through 2002. My Dad is a huge Yankee fan (of course) so naturally I was brought up to love the Yankees. I loved watching Derek Jeter, El Duque, and the Core Four. But, as a left-handed hitter I never emulated any of them when playing baseball and Wiffle ball as a kid. Instead, the player I most played like was Ichiro Suzuki. He was my first baseball idol. We both swung the bat when we were halfway out of the batters box and well on our way to first base. Ichiro was the best player ever to me. Everything about him was good: his swing, how he played the game, his name, and even where he was from. I became a huge fan of learning about Japan.
Then my Dad told me the Yankees were going to acquire a player from Japan. At that point in my life it was a combination of the two greatest things ever.
Hideki Matsui was my new idol. He quickly became my favorite baseball player, still is, and will be forever.
So, up to the plate steps Hideki Matsui.
Robinson Cano is on deck.
Hideki Matsui flew out his last at-bat.
Hideki Matsui struck out the at-bat before that.
Well, you know what they say when a batter keeps fouling pitches off. They’re on top of the pitcher. They’re just waiting for their pitch.
A Walk-Off Homer!
I am very fortunate.
My favorite baseball player ever just hit a walk-off home run.
I was there to see my favorite baseball player ever hit a walk-off home run!
There are three moments that without fail bring a tear to my eye: The ending of Ratatouille, when Hideki Matsui got presented his World Series ring at the first Yankees homestand in 2010 as a member of the Los Angeles Angles, and when watching Hideki Matsui take Jim Johnson deep to right field on July 20th, 2009.
In the aftermath of the game everything was crazy. The stadium went berserk, I was probably crying tears of joy, my grandparents and Dad were trying calm down the most nuts 10 year old ever.
We stayed for the postgame interviews. We stayed to watch the replays on the Jumbotron. We stayed as I ran the moment over and over in my head.
Then we heard that if we left a certain way behind the stadium that we’d get to watch the players leave. That was pretty cool too.
Then, we went home.
That was the last time I ever got to see Hideki Matsui play baseball.
I went back to Yankee Stadium on July 28th, 2013 to attend “Hideki Matsui Day” and watch him sign a 1-day minor league contract to retire as a Yankee. The Yankees beat the Tampa Bay Rays that day with another walk-off hit, this time by Alfonso Soriano. But, I never got to see Hideki Matsui play ball again.
And, while that’s a sad thought, I truthfully wouldn’t have it any other way. Yes, he went off in the 2009 postseason and absolutely destroyed the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 6 to bring home the Commissioner’s Trophy. That was another nuts day in my household. Watching Hideki Matsui win World Series MVP was awesome.
But on July 20th, 2009 I saw Hideki Matsui hit a magical walk-off home run.
Now, what does this have to do with the game I attended this past weekend?
Well, Tom Brady is the Hideki Matsui of the NFL for me. Without a doubt, he’s been my favorite NFL player for as long as I’ve been watching and understanding football.
This past Sunday I got to watch Tom Brady in a game that was lost to the Jets. In a game he had been down by 14 points going into the 4th quarter, it all came down to his final drive. Down on his own 7 yard line, with 2:11 left on the clock, no timeouts, ad just the 2-minute warning.
Yeah, Rob Gronkowski was a player Brady went to when he needed it. (Though, unfortunately for my story not on the final drive.)
And this game is likely the last time I’ll ever get to see Tom Brady play in the NFL, as I wrote in Monday’s article (linked above):
“The last time I had seen Tom Brady play was on December 27th, 2015. He threw for 231 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception in a 26-20 overtime loss to the New York Jets. Next year, the Buccaneers do not have any scheduled games against the New York Jets or New York Giants. Unless they end up playing the Giants in a playoff game as an away team (which will never happen), he’s not coming back to the Meadowlands until at least 2023.
I couldn’t let my last game seeing Tom Brady be a loss.
Especially not to the Jets.”
It wasn’t going to be a loss.
1 minute and 57 seconds of time used on the clock.
Tom Brady essentially walked-off the final game I’ll likely ever see him play.
It was awesome.
I was going nuts with the 8 Patriots/Tom Brady/Bucs fans around me.
Tom Brady performed magic.
That’s Hideki Matsui-esque to me.