Mark my words, they’re going to pay tribute to Daisuke Matsuzaka’s Red Sox career at Fenway Park when all is said and done.

Whether Dice-K’s No. 18 will be hung from the facade in right field some day remains as much as mystery as his alleged gyroball. What I can guarantee you, though, is that whether it’s a plaque, a statue or his likeness in origami, someone will see fit to properly recognize Dice-K for forcing the Red Sox to expand the cramped closet they call a press box.

If the Red Sox don’t acknowledge the man’s contributions, the city of Boston’s health department probably will. Believe me, stuffing 100 sweaty sportswriters in such claustrophobic space as the Fenway press box is a public health hazard. With half of the media contingent hailing from the Far East, this could have mushroomed into a global health catastrophe rivaling the bird flu if the accommodations weren’t modernized.

But I’ve got a feeling Dice-K won’t just be Epidemiology Weekly’s Man of the Year. He’s going to set the American League on fire this season, much like his fellow countryman, Ichiro Suzuki, did in 2001, when he became the second player in history to win the American League Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in the same season.

The off-field phenomenon is already in motion. We only got a taste of Dice-Kmania during spring training. Wait until the circus leaves Florida.

No doubt the renowned Little Tokyo section of Kansas City (where the welcoming aroma of barbecued seaweed wafts through the streets) will be a ghost town on Thursday, and Japanese flags will be waving all over Kauffman Stadium when Matsuzaka makes his official American debut. The buzz will follow him back to Boston for the opening homestand. By the time the cherry blossoms in D.C. are in full bloom, he’ll be the talk of not just baseball, but the nation.

The Diceman will leave KC with a W and Boston’s initial homestand with another one. He’ll pick up quite a few more before he learns how to say “renegotiate.”

It’s going to take some time for Matsuzaka to adjust to American culture and American baseball. The Red Sox have taken steps to help him with the former. But when he toes the rubber, it’s still just baseball. American League hitters are going to have to adjust to him, too, and they will be baffled by his vast array of pitches the first time through the circuit. So that’s six or seven wins, easy, by the end of May.

The first speed bump may come in June and July, when some of the differences between Japanese and American baseball may start to come to a head. Matsuzaka pitched roughly once a week in Japan in a six-man rotation. By summer, the physical toll of pitching every fifth day may be noticeable. He’ll also start facing teams for a second or third time, too.

But this is also when the inter-league schedule kicks in, and it’s scary to think what will happen to the puny National League lineups he’ll face. The guy had his worst command of the spring against the Reds in spring training and still held them hitless for five innings.

Twelve wins by the All-Star break. Put a thousand yen on it (that’s $8.50).

By mid-July, the Red Sox will be in the heat of the pennant race. Beginning in late August, they’ll play 25 straight games against division opponents. This will be when he’s at his best.

If you think Dice-K will wither in the heat and pressure, you’re nuts. The guy thrives under pressure.

When he was still a kid, he dominated the Japanese high school championships, their equivalent of the Final Four. Last year, he was the MVP of the World Baseball Classic, which was met with a collective yawn over here but a source of great national pride in the Land of the Rising Sun. And spare me all this navel gazing the Boston media is doing about how tough it is on players. The Japanese press makes their Boston brethren look like copy boys for Grit when it comes to scrutinizing players. Dice-K has already dealt with the worst of it, and he’s done it, for the most part, with a smile on his face.

By October, Matsuzaka will have won 20 games and everyone’s heart. He’ll be all over the tube pitching Dice-K bread. Mitt Romney will be seeking his endorsement for President. The Patriots will ask him to toss the coin at their first home game. K-Mart will change its name to Dice-K-Mart. Tim McCarver will be calling him Daisuke Martinez. Curt Schilling will be in such awe, he’ll be speechless.

OK, that’s a little overboard.

He will be the Emperor of New England, and the $103 million the Red Sox shelled out for him will seem like a bargain.

Dice-Kmania is just getting warmed up.

Randy Whitehouse is a staff writer. He may be reached via e-mail at [email protected]


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