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Saturday, December 9, 2006
Red Sox make moves to help Matsuzaka feel welcome

Associated Press

BOSTON -- Boston Red Sox starter Curt Schilling and pitching coach John Farrell are learning Japanese so they will be able to talk to Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima.

The Red Sox signed Okajima, a left-handed reliever, and bid $51.11 million for the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka. They have 30 days to negotiate a contract with the MVP of the World Baseball Classic. That deadline looms Thursday night.

The Red Sox have said they will not comment on the negotiations.

Manager Terry Francona said Okajima and Matsuzaka would probably enjoy having a compatriot on the team.

"I would hope that would be a help," Francona said at the winter meetings this week in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. "When this is all said and done, the Red Sox are certainly going to make this as easy a transition for whoever's here. We always do.

"I think we feel very strongly that the more comfortable players are, the better success they are going to have. That's why we try to spend so much time with our younger kids that come over from the Dominican not speaking English because we think they are going to be better players once they do that."

Jason Varitek is more worried about learning how to catch them.

"All of them always seem to understand something we all have in common, the baseball knowledge," Varitek said Saturday, noting that he caught Mac Suzuki when he was with the Mariners and Hideo Nomo and Tomo Ohka in Boston. "Baseball is its own, universal language."

Schilling is eager to do his part to help Matsuzaka feel welcome.

"He is literally a national symbol," Schilling told fans at Saturday's Christmas at Fenway event.

"I didn't realize what we had coming our way, and when I did I wanted to make sure that both of them have someone on the staff they at least know who is going to make an effort to be able to communicate with them."

But Francona didn't think he'd have a problem communicating.

"For me, I can pat a guy on the back after eight good innings in any language," he said. "That won't be difficult."