By WAYNE GRACZYK
We can expect to see a lot more Los Angeles Angels games than the New York Yankees on NHK and J Sports in 2010 because of Hideki Matsui, especially when the Angels play the Seattle Mariners with Ichiro Suzuki.
Japanese fans at home and also in Southern California are excited about the addition of the 2009 World Series MVP to the Angels lineup, and one of the most thrilled American followers of the team is Chuck Richter who founded, funds and maintains www.angelswin.com, a Web site devoted to the Angels. Its slogan is "Where Angels Fans Are @, Unraveling Angels Baseball One Thread at a Time."
The 39-year-old Richter is a native of Orange County, where the Angels play their home games in Anaheim, but he currently lives in the Seattle area and established the Web site in 2003 (the year after the Angels won their only World Series) as a hobby. It has expanded into a talk forum for Angels fans, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year-round.
There are more than 1,600 registered members of angelswin.com, but Richter says the site gets 4,000-5,000 hits per day. His blog is included in the content, and he insists the fan base is there and growing all the time.
"It has really surpassed my expectations," he said during a recent telephone interview and, since the rumors began about Matsui's anticipated signing by the American League club, traffic on the site has increased with messages from fans in Matsui's home country.
"When word spread that Hideki would probably be joining the Angels, we got more hits than ever from Japan, and we expect the numbers to spike when the season begins," said Richter.
He added that getting Matsui's bat in the middle of the order is going to add even more punch to the already potent lineup of the 2009 AL West Division champions and helps make up for the loss of free agents Chone Figgins (third baseman gone to Seattle) and Vladimir Guerrero (outfielder and DH who signed with the Texas Rangers).
"I know a lot of fans will embrace Matsui. Though coming off knee surgery, he put up great stats (28 home runs, 90 RBIs, .274) in less than 500 at-bats (456, to be exact), and he should more than make up for the loss of Guerrero," said Richter. "Putting Hideki in there with the likes of (outfielders) Bobby Abreu (15 HRs, 103 RBIs in 2009), Torii Hunter (22, 90) and the others makes for a stacked lineup."
The "others" include first baseman Kendry Morales (34, 108), outfielder Juan Rivera (25, 88), third baseman Brandon Wood (22, 72 at Triple-Salt Lake), second sacker Howie Kendrick (10, 61), shortstop Erick Aybar (.312 with 58 RBIs) and catcher Mike Napoli (20, 56). Get used to their names; you'll be seeing a lot of them on TV in Japan this coming season.
Though his Web site is unofficial, Richter says it has the blessing of the Angels ballclub, whose staff has cooperated with him and encouraged the fan forum.
"They gave me a media pass so I can enter the clubhouse, the field and the press box to perform interviews, and we've been talked about on live radio and telecasts by former Angels play-by-play announcers, Steve Physioc and Rex Hudler," said Richter.
(Yes, that is the Rex Hudler who played second base for the Yakult Swallows in 1993.)
Richter also said a highlight of the season for him is actually meeting and mixing twice a year with many of the fans with whom he interacts on the Web site.
"We go to spring training in Tempe, Ariz., and we get about 200 people from angelswin.com who show up. Some folks with the Angels join us at a sports bar, too," he said. "Then at mid-season, usually during the weekend closest to the Fourth of July, several hundred of us meet and have a barbecue and a softball game before seeing our favorite team play. If the Angels are on the road, we do it another time."
Just as Japanese fans are welcome to submit their thoughts on the site, says Richter, they are invited to the get-togethers in Tempe and at the BBQ grill.
"I know there is large pool of Japanese fans in Los Angeles, about 20 miles (32 km) north of Orange County and Anaheim, and I am sure many will come to see Matsui," he predicted.
Though he lives in the state of Washington, Richter says he is a lifelong Angels fan, and he got hooked on the team as a youngster when he used to ride in his stepfather's truck.
"My stepdad always had the games on the radio," he recalls. "I've been hooked on Angels baseball ever since."
He was asked by USA Today to blog during the playoffs last October, and he's hoping the Angels will make it to the playoffs — and the World Series — again in 2010 with their newly acquired "Godzilla."
"I think Hideki may do even better at Angel Stadium than last season in New York. Sure, Yankee Stadium has that short right-field porch that favors left-handed hitters, but Matsui had a higher slugging percentage, on-base percentage and generally better stats on the road," Richter pointed out.
With the above-listed Angels lineup, Richter believes No. 55 will have more opportunities and will put up better numbers than in '09.
The Angels open their regular-season schedule on April 5, at home against the Minnesota Twins. The 2010 Major League Baseball All-Star Game takes place at Angel Stadium too, scheduled for July 13.
Think Matsui will be in it?