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Matsuzaka mania hits Kansas City

Matsuzaka mania hits Kansas City

KANSAS CITY -- Eric Kilgore and Mike Stead want to be at Thursday's game to witness one of the most anticipated pitching matchups in the world.

On Thursday afternoon, Kauffman Stadium becomes the eye of the Daisuke Matsuzaka storm when the Japanese phenom makes his first Major League start. Matsuzaka will face Royals right-hander Zack Greinke in a 1:10 p.m. CT start.

"I want to see him and see how he really does," Stead said Monday afternoon at Opening Day.

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"You have a total oxymoron Thursday with Greinke bouncing back [from personal problems] and Daisuke coming over," Kilgore added. "It's going to be interesting watching these two match up."

Just like Stead and Kilgore, thousands of other fans are trying to find tickets for Thursday's game. They are selling fast.

As of 12:30 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, the Royals are outselling their second game this year and far surpassed their totals from last season, said ticket office representative Chris Darr.

Last season, for the first day game after Opening Day (like Thursday), Darr said the Royals sold just short of 11,500 tickets. For the second game this season, a Wednesday night game that matches Josh Beckett and Odalis Perez, the office had sold 16,900 tickets.

Thursday's sales trumped everything.

"It's quite a big difference," Darr said. "We have heard ... about the hype for Matsuzaka."

So far, 18,300 tickets have been sold. Darr said it's possible the offices could have a high number of walkups Thursday, but he doesn't know for certain.

Royals fan Mike Moorehouse also is excited about Thursday's contest. Because of Kansas City's poor record the last couple years, the team hasn't received much national publicity. Everything will change Thursday.

"All the hype, and we get the first opportunity to see him," Moorehouse said. "That's a big deal. I can't wait for this weekend.

"We are guaranteed to make SportsCenter," he added with a laugh.

As well as thousands of newspapers, radios and television stations around the world.

Representatives from the Royals' media relations department said they had never seen anything like this before. In the official game notes, the Royals welcomed the hundreds of Japanese journalists with "Irrasshaimse," meaning "welcome."

The Royals have issued 220 media credentials, with nearly half to members of the Japanese media.

In the main press box on Opening Day, some journalists sat on the stairs while others stood the entire game. Because of the high volume of media, the Royals also had to make several other accommodations, including setting up some computer space in the dining room. It will be a similar scene Thursday.

The fans and media also will see an interesting story for the Royals. Many fans are interested in Greinke, a former phenom who battled back from anxiety and depression issues to post a 3.00 ERA in Spring Training.

"He was our best pitcher," manager Buddy Bell said.

Fans hope Greinke can channel the strong spring into an even better regular season -- especially since he doesn't have to be the ace with Gil Meche onboard.

"I want to see what he can do," Luke Queen said. "He seemed really comfortable during Spring Training. I am excited for him. The pressure isn't on him. He can go out there and be one of the guys."

Ed Corbett also hopes Greinke, still only 23, can reclaim the dazzling stuff that yielded a 3.97 ERA and just 26 walks in 145 innings during the 2004 season.

"I want to see Zack Greinke succeed," Corbett said. "Zack needs to shake the past. Just give him a chance."

Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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