The day after the Climax Series ended in a loss for the Hanshin Tigers, outfielder Matt Murton headed back to America on the 13th. Every year he frankly shares his feelings with the press on his way out of Japan at Kansai International Airport, but this year he looked even more serious than usual. Last year he gently stroked his son’s head as he fielded questions. This time he let his wife take care of his son while answering.
“I played this year thinking it would be my last one with the Tigers.”
So he’s leaving Japan knowing that he’s left the club. He slumped in the first half of the year and it shows in his final line of .276, 9 HR, 59 RBI. Based on what his ability, these are sad numbers to leave on. Combine them with his 450-million yen contract and a renewal for next season looks unlikely.
“New manager, players retiring, the team is going through changes. I don’t know what that means for me.”
So he reaches his conclusion by looking at the team’s circumstances. Very fitting for the import, who has spent six seasons with the organization. “Kobe is like a second home for me.” He continued to speak words of thanksgiving almost non-stop for 20 minutes. “Not just for me, but for my family.” His emphasis on these words leave an impression. He had spoken them before, but under happier circumstances.
“My oldest daughter says, ‘I’m Japanese’ because she was born and raised here.”
She was born during his first season in Japan, and is now 5 years old. You could see the family’s love for Japan even in how they cheered for the team this year. The kids didn’t only wear Murton’s 9, but also had Toritani’s 1 and Nishioka’s 7 on their backs at the stadium. They know his teammate’s names, and are not just “Daddy fans” but “Hanshin fans.” It’s clear for all to see that these six years were invaluable.
“If the Tigers come to me with an offer, I’m willing to listen. If I am able to play in Japan again, it might be with a different team though, and that’s a really big deal.”
When he was done speaking gracefully about Hanshin and NPB, he firmly shook the hands of all the reporters. As I watched him walk away, I remembered what happened five years ago.
Just hours earlier, fellow six-year veteran Randy Messenger looked brightly at reporters saying, “I’ll be back next year.” Murton and Messenger both joined the club in 2010. Murton broke the single-season hits record in Japan with 214, and his contract for the following season was all but assured. Messenger had been acquired as a reliever, but got sent down to the farm midway through the year. He was converted to become a starter and did better in the second half, but his return for the next year was in question. At the end of the season, it was the big righty who held out his hand to thank us, saying, “Thanks for everything this year.”
Messenger came back and has played extremely well since then. Perhaps this time around… well, all we can do is hope we’ll see Murton make a triumphant return to Japan as well.