After establishing himself as a legend at home and abroad, leaving his mark in the Koshien high school national games, pro baseball, WBC, and the Major Leagues, Matsuzaka Daisuke's baseball career came to an end last year in 2021 when he retired. Who has this hero of the baseball world looked up to ever since he was young? None other than Goku!
From seeing the Saiyan warrior push himself to his limits while heading to Planet Namek in a spaceship, facing down one powerful enemy after another for the sake of his friends, to getting excited at the prospect of fighting someone stronger than himself, watching the great feats Goku accomplished gave Matsuzaka the encouragement he needed when times were tough. Sometimes he felt as though he was chasing after Goku, and other times he even felt as if he was embodying Goku as he stood on the pitcher's mound.
Behind the fame and glory that comes with being a professional baseball player, there is a constant battle against adversity. We spoke to Matsuzaka about how Dragon Ball helped him overcome those odds.
*This interview was conducted remotely.
——You were born in 1980. Dragon Ball's manga began its run in 1984, with the anime starting in 1986. That puts you right smack dab in the middle of the Dragon Ball generation, doesn't it?
Matsuzaka: I can't believe Dragon Ball started that long ago.
I think the first time I became aware of Dragon Ball was when I was in elementary school, through a copy of Weekly Shonen Jump that my father had. He was a truck driver, and I must have read it while I was riding in the passenger's seat. I watched the anime as well. I think it aired Wednesday nights at 7pm, which would have been during broadcasts of baseball games, so I'd always beg my dad to take 30 minutes out of the game he was watching to change the channel to see it.
Matsuzaka conducted his interview with us remotely from his home in Boston.
——You were in elementary school from 1986 to 1992, which would have been during the Red Ribbon Army, Great Demon King Piccolo, Saiyan, and Frieza arcs. Which of those stories were you most invested in?
Matsuzaka: I was basically hooked from the start. I still vividly remember Goku and Krillin training under Kamesennin before their first Tenkaichi Budokai. My friends and I used to pretend we were training just like them while we were playing. Of course, we didn't do anything crazy like jump off the side of a cliff. (laughs)
——Goku and Krillin wore turtle shells on their backs when they trained. By any chance, did you also...?
Matsuzaka: I couldn't get my hands on any shells, but I did my own version of weighted training. Dragon Ball has lots of scenes where characters fight with weights on, only to remove them for a power-up, right? I took my cue from that and wore weighted wrist and ankle bands during baseball practice.
Dragon Ball has several scenes of characters training while carrying heavy weights
——Kids from that time are quite familiar with the heavy uniforms Goku and other characters wore. Are there any other scenes aside from training that stick out to you?
Matsuzaka: There's quite a few. For example, there's the part when Trunks fights Cell after training in the Room of Spirit and Time. He focused too much on power and sacrificed speed to the point that he couldn't keep up with Cell. That really shocked me as a kid and reinforced how important it is to strike a proper balance when training yourself. The same applies to baseball—it's important to make yourself bigger so you can increase your output, but if a pitcher gets too muscular, the speed of his pitch will drop and it'll become a disadvantage. I think there are a lot of aspects of Dragon Ball that are applicable to baseball.
——Do you still engage with Dragon Ball?
Matsuzaka: I play the Dokkan Battle app game, and I re-read the old manga from time to time. When I was stuck at home during quarantine, I started reading the manga from volume 1 and re-watched the Cooler movies for the first time since elementary school.
——Is there anything about Dragon Ball that hits you differently when you read and watch it now compared to when you were a child?
Matsuzaka: When I was young I was enraptured by how powerful the drawings were and how cool the fight scenes and characters looked. As an adult, I find myself surprised at some of Goku's lines, like, "Oh wow, so that's what he meant when he said that." When I think back, maybe his words had some sort of impact on me growing up.
——Which lines left an impression on you?
Matsuzaka: The part where Goku says, "On this planet we know that even the lowest-born can outdo the elite if they work hard enough," the first time he faces off against Vegeta. Even though he didn't think he could beat his opponent, he believed that it was possible to overcome his limitations with enough effort. That always gave me courage.
——Speaking of, you encountered a number of strong rivals like Vegeta during your baseball career, didn't you?
Matsuzaka: That's true. I played baseball from grades 1-12 and professionally, but no matter what level I was at, I definitely came across plenty of Vegeta-like rivals along the way. I always felt fired up when I came across a player who I didn't want to lose to.
Goku always smiles and says he's getting pumped whenever a powerful new enemy appears. I'm the same way—I always enjoyed going up against a strong team or a really good batter. I think the way I enjoy adversity did a lot to change and develop my abilities, just like Goku.
——Would it be fair to say your favorite character is Goku?
Matsuzaka: Yes, he is. He's my number one hero and someone I continue to admire even now. So I found myself growing impatient during those long stretches where he doesn't appear in the story (laughs). For example, when he was crossing Serpent Road in order to train on Kaio's Planet or when he was sidelined while suffering from a heart virus during the Android arc. I'd find myself shouting, "Hurry up, Goku! Get out there!" in my mind while reading each new chapter in Weekly Shonen Jump.
——What is the most appealing aspect of Goku to you?
Matsuzaka: Naturally, I like how strong and cool he is, but more than that I'm drawn to how hard he works in order to win. For example, I always admired how he pushed himself to the very edge while training in the spaceship on his way to Planet Namek. Whenever I found practice getting difficult, I'd remember Goku in that moment and keep pushing forward specifically because it was hard.
Another thing about Goku is his willingness to sacrifice his life for his friends. I think Goku taught me how to persevere through struggles for the sake of others, even if it hurts.
——You really had a lot of people's hopes riding on your shoulders when you were your team's ace. Were there any times where you found yourself embodying Goku?
Matsuzaka: I might have, yes. When I was in high school, I went to every practice and game with the motto "One for all, All for one" embroidered on my glove. I think my belief in acting in the interest of others comes from seeing how considerate Goku was of his friends. In fact, that's definitely where it came from.
——You talked earlier about enjoying adversity, but what was the biggest challenge you faced as a baseball player?
Matsuzaka: The toughest challenge was after I had just started high school, specifically the first three months. I was living in a dorm for the first time and undergoing training the likes of which I had never experienced before. It really took its toll physically and mentally. It was the only time I ever felt like all the money in the world couldn't get me to go back. But I just kept thinking that if I can ride it out, I'll get better and I'll get closer to becoming a regular player, and thanks to that I somehow managed to grit my teeth and bear it.
——Do you think that those three months were helpful to your baseball career?
Matsuzaka: I do. Naturally, I had tough practices afterwards, and there were some hard times after I went pro as well, but those three months when I was 15 went a long way to fortifying my mind.
It was a lot like when Goku's son Gohan first appeared, only to be taken away by Piccolo and forced to train. That must have been really hard for him, but going through all that training made him much stronger mentally. It was fascinating seeing Gohan develop not only his physicality and skill set but also his mind. I found that really encouraging as a high school student.
——After overcoming that three-month struggle, you went from being on the bench in the fall of your first year to your team's ace-in-the-hole in your second. Could you sense that you were improving during that time?
Matsuzaka: I could, yes. I think I underwent my biggest improvement as a baseball player during my high school years. That was especially thanks to Kiyoichiro Ogura, the coach and head of the baseball team, who really helped toughen up my body. He always gave us some kind of theme and then taught us how to work on overcoming it. He spent all three years teaching us lessons that gave us the opportunity to better ourselves. To me, he's just like Kamesennin, Karin, and Mister Popo all rolled into one.
——In that case, who would you consider to be like Kami?
Matsuzaka: That would have to be the coach of the Seibu Lions at the time I joined, Osamu Higashio. He always showed me the way whenever I was feeling lost. He was really like Kami to me.
——Last question: if you gathered all seven Dragon Balls, what would you wish for?
Matsuzaka: Whenever I got injured when I was playing, I'd always think to myself, "Man, I wish I had a Senzu Bean," but now...hmmm, good question. I guess I'd say, "I want my 25-year-old body back". I want to be able to throw a pitch again with all my might.
——You retired last year, but you still want to keep pitching.
Matsuzaka: There's that, but more specifically, there are lots of batters playing now who I'd love to go up against. For example, I find myself wondering what would happen if 25-year-old me pitched against Shohei Otani. Seeing the heavy-hitters playing today gets me pumped up and brings up all sorts of competitive feelings inside me. I wish I could go head-to-head with them.
Now that I'm retired, I'm watching baseball from the outside for the first time ever. And that can be fun in its own right, but I've never lost my desire to compete against strong opponents, and I don't see that changing any time soon.
Daisuke Matsuzaka: Born in Tokyo in 1980. Started playing baseball competitively as a third-grader in elementary school. Won successive spring and summer championships at the Koshien high school national games as a student of Yokohama High School and earned the nickname "the Monster of the Heisei Era". Played professionally for the Seibu Lions and Boston Red Sox. Continues to make regular appearances in various media as a baseball commentator since retiring in 2021.
Interviewer and writer: Noriyuki Enami (Yajirobe)
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