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Former Yankee Hideki Matsui speaks in Greenwich

May 24, 2017 GMT

GREENWICH — Baseball legend Hideki Matsui considers when the New York Yankees won the 2009 World Series as the moment when he became a champion.

The powerful hitter batted three home runs and six RBI in Game 6 against the Philadelphia Phillies, earning the World Series Most Valuable Player Award, the first Japanese-born player to do so.

“I had probably the ultimate experience of joy getting to that pinnacle,” said Matsui.

But what happens after a champion wins his glory? Movies roll the credits, but in real life, days, weeks, years spin out after that peak moment. As the trophies tarnish, how should a champion move on?

At the Field Club of Greenwich on Wednesday, Matsui spoke of his efforts to “champion a champion,” spreading his success to youth through baseball and his non-profit organization, Matsui 55.

“Through baseball, I was able to learn about life, and I was also able to meet a lot of wonderful people,” said Matsui, speaking through a translator. “My intention was to be able to pass that on... Not that I want everyone to learn baseball, but to me, that is a tool to navigate through life.”

The outfielder formerly nicknamed “Godzilla” has run baseball clinics for children in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Japan since founding his organization in 2015.

“I don’t know I’ve really learned a lot (from the youth clinics), but rather I was more reminded how pure they are,” said Matsui, a Greenwich resident. “It serves as a reminder to stay pure at heart.”

Born in Neagari, Ishikawa, Japan, Matsui was drafted to the Japanese baseball team the Yomiuri Giants after high school. The left-handed batter played with the team from 1993 to 2002, leading his team to three Japan Series wins. He was named a three-time MVP in the Japanese Central League and qualified for nine consecutive all-star games.

After he watched the Yankees play during a game he attended with the Yomuiri Giants manager, Matsui said he was inspired by the American team and wanted to play for them. When he could leave the Japanese league as a free agent, he signed with the New York team in December 2002.

At the 2003 home opener, he became the first Yankee to hit a grand slam in his first game at Yankee Stadium. His success continued throughout his seven-year career with the Yankees, breaking many records.

“Being the nature of this game, there’s no real individual champion,” said Matsui. “One person can’t be champion. It’s all about the team becoming the champion.”

After the Yankee’s 2009 World Series win, Matsui played a series of one-year stints with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Oakland Athletics and the Tampa Bay Rays before retiring in 2013.

The Global Citizens Initiative, an education nonprofit based in Greenwich, teamed up with Matsui 55 to host Wednesday’s breakfast and presentation. Global Citizens Initiative runs a leadership summit and mentorship program for about 25 high schoolers a year to help them tackle global challenges in their communities.

“We really share a lot in common,” said Yumi Kuwana, founder of the Global Citizens Initiative. Both organizations focus on transcending borders and empowering youth, she said.

David Shepley, who will be a sophomore at Columbia University and who participated in the GCI program, introduced Matsui.

“It’s pretty special to have him here, for him to share some of the lessons he’s learned,” said Shepley after Matsui’s presentation.

emunson@greenwichtime.com; Twitter: @emiliemunson