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Dice-K Effect Gets Reality Check

The Red Sox are back at Fenway Park today, after a 14-3 blowout victory over the Mariners in the season's home opener.

Now, today's game marks another big day for Boston: the Fenway debut of Daisuke Matsuzaka. And it's only fitting that the Japanese star will throw his first pitch to Ichiro Suzuki.

When Seattle signed Suzuki, the Pacific Coast city got a giant boost in Japanese tourism. Some in Massachusetts were hyping a similar "Dice-K Effect." But as WBUR's Business and Technology Reporter Curt Nickisch explains, Boston may have to get some economic base hits before scoring any tourism home runs.

TEXT OF STORY

CURT NICKISCH: If you were to look only at the office of Boston International Travel in Brookline, you might think all of Japan wants to take in a Red Sox game.

[SOUND OF OFFICE FRENZY]

NICKISCH: A schedule of home games is taped above each desk. Stacks of tickets with sticky notes are scattered throughout, as salespeople take calls asking about Daisuke Matsuzaka.

[SOUND OF SALESPERSON SPEAKING IN JAPANESE]

NICKISCH: Owner Masahiko Takinami says it's hard to say how much his business will grow this year. He's hoping for double, and he's hiring.

MASAHIKO TAKINAMI: Right now we're looking for tour guide. If someone speak Japanese, even American people, call me!

NICKISCH: Chalk that new job up to the Dice-K Effect. Still, the overall economic impact may be relatively small. The Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates the increase in Japanese tourism this year will add fourteen million dollars to Boston's economy. That's a far cry from the seventy-five million tossed around when Dice-K signed in December.

To put the revised numbers in perspective, picture this: the additional Japanese tourists now expected all season long would fill less than a quarter of Fenway Park.

[SOUND OF TV PRODUCER DIRECTING A FILM SHOOT]

NICKISCH: At the sushi restaurant Fugakyu in Brookline, Fuji TV is filming the new Matsuzaka Maki, a dinner plate complete with a piece of lettuce for Fenway's Green Monster.

Crew translator Januk Bhumani says Japanese are fascinated with how America sees them. And he's says Dice-K's one-hundred-million dollar-plus price tag gives them a real sense of national worth:

JANUK BHUMANI: Why is it such a phenomenon? The money! It's not like, oh, let's get someone from Japan, because, you know, we can get them for cheaper. And they work harder, you know. That showed the Japanese, wow, he is on that level.

NICKISCH: That excitement is something Boston's tourism industry could tap into. But it's going to have to get past this: when the Fuji TV crew wraps up after Dice-K's debut today, it's heading back to its base in New York City. Without even a direct flight between Boston and Japan, the two are in some ways worlds apart.

[SOUND OF MIDDLESEX COUNTY VOLUNTEERS FIFES AND DRUMS]

NICKISCH: The divide was evident at a welcome party for the Japanese media this week. A fife and drum corps played, and it was odd to see Revolutionary War re-enactors with tri-corner hats deliver an ojigi - a bow of respect - as guests filed in. Yoichi Suzuki hopes Dice-K will indeed bring America's birthplace and the Land of the Rising Sun closer together. He's Japan's consul general here. Suzuki says Boston's financial institutions already have ties to his country's industry, but:

JAPANESE CONSUL GENERAL YOICHI SUZUKI: Japanese people simply didn't know that. But now with Matsuzaka, I hope that their interest will go beyond that, and it'll create new business opportunities.

NICKISCH: The best part about Dice-K's signing, Suzuki says, is that it's a six-year contract. Time, he says, for steady growth of tourism and commerce and cultural exchange.

Hoping for the same is Larry Meehan. He heads tourism sales for the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors' Bureau.

LARRY MEEHAN: I have an eight-year-old son, who has replaced his Tom Brady T-shirt, now with his number 18 Daisuke T-shirt. He has even said he would like to go to Japan someday. What does that say about the power of sports, the power of culture, the power of a smile that we've seen on this wonderful 26-year-old baseball player? So I think there's a tremendous future. Way beyond the millions of dollars, way beyond air service and those types of things.

NICKISCH: Meehan says Daisuke Matsuzaka has already made Boston a richer place to live. It'll take some time, though, to develop the tourism and business connections to make Boston wealthier.

For WBUR, I'm Curt Nickisch.

This program aired on April 11, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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