BOSTON (AP) – The cheers echoed down Yawkey Way as Daisuke Matsuzaka’s car rolled past Fenway Park and turned off toward the Citgo sign in Kenmore Square. The next stop on the Japanese ace’s whirlwind tour of Boston: “The Gah-den,” where he dropped the puck at the start of the Bruins game.

The 26-year-old right-hander wrapped up a wild 24 hours in his new baseball home on Thursday night, meeting the U.S. and international media in a packed Fenway news conference after agreeing to a six-year, $52 million deal with the Red Sox. Boston Mayor Tom Menino stood by; Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein even put on a suit.

“We know that many of you have traveled great distances to be here today, and we very much appreciate it,” Epstein said in a packed premium club behind home plate.

Pausing for his remarks to be translated to Matsuzaka and the Japanese reporters among about 300 members of the media in attendance, Epstein gasped out a “Wow” at the constant flash of strobe lights illuminating the room. Matsuzaka dutifully held up his new jersey – No. 18, just like Johnny Damon used to wear – but hesitated to put his Boston cap over his neatly spiked hair.

He smiled freely when speaking Japanese, but balked at talking trash toward Damon’s new team, the New York Yankees. Matsuzaka said his advisers told him to tweak the Red Sox rival much like teammate Curt Schilling, who said upon signing in Boston, “I guess I hate the Yankees now”; he declined. Schilling will have a chance to straighten him out soon enough. Asked what teammate he’s eager to meet, Matsuzaka singled out the bloody sock hero of the 2004 World Series and said, “As a member of the Boston Red Sox, I’d like to contribute to the world championship.”

To accommodate the media throng, the news conference was moved from the regular interview room, where beat writers more typically ask David Ortiz what pitch he hit for a game-winning homer. Timed for the live 5 p.m. newscasts in Boston – and the 7 a.m. shows back in Japan – Matsuzaka’s words were beamed worldwide by 16 TV satellite trucks lined up on Van Ness street, along the first-base line.

“This is a great day not only for Red Sox fans but for fans of major league baseball,” Red Sox chairman Tom Werner said. “The excitement at Fenway Park in 2007 will really be ratcheted up another level. I think Daisuke will provide a great number of stories for many years to come for us.”

NESN, the cable outlet owned by the Red Sox and Bruins, scheduled a replay of the championship game of this spring’s World Baseball Classic; Matsuzaka won that game for Japan and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

That will be the first opportunity for many Red Sox fans to see him pitch.

The Red Sox handed out T-shirts that said “B is for baseball,” with “baseball” written in Japanese. Upstairs in the press box dining room, there was a reception offering hot dogs, Yankee pot roast and sushi.

Matsuzaka received a standing ovation from the sparse crowd when he walked onto the ice wearing a No. 18 Bruins jersey bearing his name. The ceremonial faceoff was taken by Boston captain Zdeno Chara and Devils forward Jay Pandolfo, a local who grew up rooting for the Red Sox.

Red Sox president Larry Lucchino welcomed Matsuzaka to Boston in two languages, and invited Japanese fans to come to the Hub to see the ballpark and watch him pitch. The Red Sox are hoping that the player they call “Matsuzaka-san” will be the centerpiece of an Asian expansion that will offset the $51.11 million posting fee they paid for the right to sign him.

“We recognize the player that we have obtained, and we will treat him with the respect and courtesy that he has earned,” Lucchino said, noting that the team has also signed reliever Hideki Okajima and campaigning for a regular-season game in Matsuzaka’s homeland.

“Our plan is to expand our ventures in Japan. We hope these two young men are the beginning of our relationship,” he said. “We would very much look forward to playing in Japan, to bring home Matsuzaka-san to Japan for a game someday.”

AP-ES-12-14-06 2004EST

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