Hideki Matsui retires as a Yankee

NEW YORK -- Hideki Matsui's baseball career in the United States ends the same way it began: as a member of the New York Yankees.

Matsui retired as a Yankee on Sunday, as he signed a one-day minor league deal with the team and later inked his retirement papers in a ceremony before the Yankees faced the Rays at Yankee Stadium.

Matsui officially retired in December, but went through this process to ensure that his final day in baseball would be as a member of the Yankees, who he played seven seasons for.

"I think this moment will be a moment I never forget," Matsui said through an interpreter prior to the game. "To be able to retire as a member of the team which I aspired to and I looked up to, I think there's nothing more fulfilling."

The Yankees began the ceremony on Sunday by flashing "Thank You Hideki!" across the video board in center. Highlights of Matsui's career were displayed, and Matsui was driven along the warning track from center field to home plate as the fans gave him a standing ovation.

Flanked by his father, mother and brother, Matsui sat at a desk behind home plate and signed his retirement papers to officially retire as a Yankee. Matsui was given a framed jersey by longtime teammate Derek Jeter, and the Yankees came out to congratulate Matsui.

Matsui, 39, also threw out the first pitch while wearing his No. 55 jersey and a Yankees hat. Fans received Matsui bobbleheads, and the bleacher creatures included Matsui in their roll call.

"Hideki represents everything the Yankees aspire to be and that's a credit to his family and his country," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "We're very thankful that you were here as a Yankee as well. This day is a proud one for us because we have a chance to retire Hideki as a New York Yankee."

The Yankees signed Matsui in 2002 after a prolific career with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan, which earned him the nickname "Godzilla" for his prowess as a power hitter. Matsui played seven seasons with New York from 2003-09, and played an instrumental part in the team's success during that time.

Teammates all respected Matsui for his professional approach, his presence in the clubhouse, and his willingness to do whatever it took to stay in the lineup. Before breaking his left wrist on May 11, 2006, Matsui played in 1,768 consecutive games dating back to his time in Japan.

"He came here and was supposed to be this Godzilla that hits home runs, but he was a situational hitter. Matsui moved runners when he had to move them, he got big hits, he drove guys in, he wanted to play every day. The biggest thing -- he never made excuses. Never heard him talk about any injuries, which I appreciate -- he would play or he didn't play," said Jeter, who jokingly called Matsui an "ojiichan," which is Japanese for old man. "I enjoyed getting to know him throughout the years. He's always been one of my favorite teammates and always will be."

Matsui batted .292 and swatted 140 homers and 597 RBIs during his tenure with the Yankees, and was a two-time All-Star. Matsui wrapped up his career with the Angels, A's and Rays, and finished as a career .282 hitter with 175 homers and 760 RBIs. He last played in the majors on July 22, 2012 with Tampa Bay.

"I've always aspired to be a member of the New York Yankees and to have been able to do that for seven years, every day for me was just an absolute joy," Matsui said.

The outfielder is best remembered as a Yankee for his heroic efforts in the 2009 World Series, as he earned MVP honors with one of the best postseason series ever produced by a Yankee. Matsui batted .615, hit three home runs and drove in eight runs in the series win over the Phillies. In the deciding Game 6, Matsui drove in a record six runs and swatted a homer as he won his first and only World Series.

Matsui also played a key role in the Yankees' victory in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS over Boston in his rookie year. Matsui doubled in the eighth inning against Boston starter Pedro Martinez, and scored the tying run later that frame in one of baseball's most famous comebacks.

"Certainly winning the World Series in 2009, that stands out as a memory," Matsui said. "Just as much in terms of impression, 2003 Game 7 of the ALCS, that stands out."

Matsui's retirement led to a packed house at Yankee Stadium, with many fans wearing Matsui jerseys and bringing signs. Several hours before the game, fans lined up outside the stadium. Matsui was one of the most popular Yankees during his stint in the Bronx.

"I think it will be a combination of nostalgia and joy when I see those fans wearing No. 55 perhaps," Matsui said. "At the same time I will be kind of impressed that they never threw it away and kept it."