By Tim Ciesco
It's not everyday a big leaguer comes to Southwest Virginia to play ball — let along a big name big leaguer like Boston Red Sox Pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.
“Here's a guy who signed a 52 million dollar contract, pitched in the World Series, won a game in the World Series, and was the MVP of the World Baseball Classic,” said Evan Lepler, the radio broadcaster for the Salem Red Sox. “So to have him here in Salem is just really cool for everybody.”
Monday night, the Japanese ace pitched in his first game since undergoing Tommy John surgery, bringing out hundreds of fans.
“As soon as I heard about it, I called [my girlfriend] and was like we've got to go to the game tonight,” said one Red Sox fan.
Total attendance for Monday night's game was 1,618. While the team says the frigid temperatures kept those numbers a lot lower than they could have been, they believe had Dice-K not been there, they would have had only a fraction of that crowd.
“There was a nice atmosphere,” said Lepler. “There was a palpable buzz because Daisuke was on the mound.”
It was the cherry on top of the kickoff to a season that has seen four of seven home games with MLB pitchers starting. Earlier this month, Boston Relief Pitcher Rich Hill played three games at Lewis Gale Field.
“I think the fans really do appreciate the fact that they get to see something special in terms of a guy who's pitched at the highest level,” said Lepler.
The first two games Hill played in have had the best and third best attendance numbers of the season. His third game, much like Dice-K's, was played on a night when the weather did not cooperate.
The team says if they're able to get Dice-K back this weekend, they think they could knock attendance numbers out of the park.
“I would love for him to be here on a Saturday night with 75 degrees, no wind, and five or six thousand fans,” said Lepler. “That would be phenomenal. But that's out of our hands. The Red Sox will make that decision.”
A game-by-game breakdown of attendance numbers at Salem Sox home games this year is as follows:
April 13*: 4,045
April 14: 3,230
April 15: 2,085
April 16*: 2,205
April 17: 1,113
April 18*: 1,071
April 23*: 1,618
*MLB pitcher started