PHOENIX – Coco Crisp approached Hideki Matsui while they warmed up Monday and pulled his new teammate into a hug. They shook hands, too — a little more the Japanese style.
Crisp was far from the only one thrilled to see Oakland's new designated hitter in uniform and on the field. Pitcher Dallas Braden greeted the slugger in the clubhouse on reporting day with a life-size blowup Godzilla representing Matsui's nickname, even dressing it in his No. 55 jersey.
"I felt it. All over the place," catcher Kurt Suzuki said of Matsui fever. "Very cool."
Matsui tipped his cap to the large contingent monitoring his every move after a session in the covered cage at Papago Park, then smiled as he went through sprint work on a welcome sunny day in the desert following a weekend of heavy rain and cold. He even pulled out his glove to play catch and later did defensive drills with the outfielders.
"It's like the first day of school. It's great," second baseman Mark Ellis said of the hype. "There are a lot of people all over the place. Getting people to talk about the A's, that's good. It will be different."
The Athletics have high hopes that Matsui and fellow newcomers David DeJesus and Josh Willingham will boost the middle of the order and make them a contender in the AL West. Oakland managed only 109 homers and 663 runs last season, the team's second fewest in the last 28 non-shortened seasons.
"Practice went pretty well," Matsui said through his interpreter, Roger Kahlon. "I'm happy to be wearing this uniform."
While the A's got their first look at their upgraded roster all together, there's not ever much to take from Day 1. Hitters typically stand in the batter's box and spend more time tracking pitches than taking actual swings.
"They're all standing upright. That's good," A's assistant general manager David Forst said with a smile. His club used the disabled list 23 times last season, two shy of the franchise record set in 2008.
Manager Bob Geren said he spent a little more time addressing his team Monday morning and welcoming all the new faces.
With added depth throughout the roster, a talented starting rotation and bullpen, and a lineup that looks to produce more offense, the A's could make a push for their first AL West title since reaching the AL championship series in 2006 and getting swept by Detroit.
Oakland finished second last year to the eventual AL champion Texas Rangers, staying in the race until late despite all the injuries.
Matsui's tender knees feel good and he looks strong. Geren is counting on it.
The attention in Japan is an added bonus for the small-market franchise.
"It's nice with Hideki joining our team, having a little green and gold contingent over there is going to be fun," the skipper said.
Matsui batted .274 with 21 homers and 84 RBIs last season with the Los Angeles Angels, Oakland's division rival. He spent his first seven major league seasons with the New York Yankees and was MVP of the 2009 World Series.
Matsui joined the A's in December on a $4.25 million, one-year contract that includes an additional $100,000 in possible performance bonuses.
His father, Masao, for one, is expecting big things from his son this season: as in 30 homers and a .300 average.
"It's crazy," shortstop Cliff Pennington said of the buzz. "Everybody's excited about the new guys we have. Expectations are high. He's a big-time player and it will bring some attention to the team. It will be interesting to learn about the culture, too."
NOTES: Reliever Michael Wuertz left the complex early and is nursing a minor shoulder issue that will keep him out for a couple of days. ... Geren said Pennington, coming off left shoulder surgery that is expected to keep him out of the first week of exhibition games, could get some defensive work in before he gets any at-bats. ... 1B Daric Barton has been sick in recent days and was limited.