Ichiro! Thanks For Everything
I am a baseball nut and masochist. I have been a loyal fan of the miserable Seattle Mariner franchise since the first game in the god awful King Dome in 1977. I watch all the games, which is exactly like hoping your life with an alcoholic will somehow be better today even though you really know better.
I was out watering my garden and turned the game featuring the Mariners and the hated Yankees on a bit late last night. The first pitch I witnessed turned into a weak fly chinked to right field so typical of the Mariner hitters flailing attempts at trying to get on base. My favorite ball player I have ever watched, Ichiro, snatched it out of the air like I had seen him do hundreds of times. But there was a major problem. He was wearing a damn New York Yankee jersey! What the hell?
I turned up the sound and learned the details. He had been traded to the evil empire for two bush league pitchers. I felt like I had just seen my non-materialistic, back-to-earth girlfriend riding shotgun with the cigar-chomping, overweight, arrogant auto dealer everybody hates in a hummer. Okay, trading him had been rumored for quite some time but only the Mariners could completely screw this up. He could have gone to Atlanta or Philadelphia or Detroit or hell even Texas and I would have been sad but no...The genius minds in this organization whose youth movement has us light years away from ever contending, decided it had to be the Yankees. Further, the trade couldn't come on a off-day no... Wait until the Yankees come to Seattle and then spring it on us.
Why would I expect anything different? Toss me a beer, please. Let me tell you about the remarkable Ichiro.
I got my elderly mother hooked on the Mariners during the 1995 playoffs against the Yankees. She became a fan and watched it every night until her death in November of 2004. She especially loved Ichiro especially after going to a game at Safeco which was a tough trip across the entire state. She was a happy part of the cheering crowd when Ichiro knocked in the winning run during his 264 hit record- breaking season. She wore her Ichiro jersey nearly everyday the rest of the summer. In fact, we displayed her Ichiro jersey at her funeral. I can still see that dark blue jersey from the corner of my eye as I gave her eulogy.
Ichiro played baseball like it was meant to be played. He could run, he slapped the ball all over the place, and would occasionally knock one out. He was clutch with runners in scoring position and caught everything near him. And man did he have a golden, powerful, accurate arm! It became famous in his first year, 2001, when he gunned down a fast Terrence Long. Unfortunately, most of his career was wasted with Seattle as he played year after year on terrible teams. He never griped. He never took a day off. In fact, of all his records none is more impressive than his durability.
From his start in 2001 through last season the Mariners played 1,782 games. Ichiro missed a total of 23 of them. From 2004-2008 he missed three games out of 810. He had seven years in which he missed either one or zero games. He never got injured because he took care of himself. He played game after meaningless game with horrible teams and still performed. I observed with horror how many in Seattle turned against him as his skills diminished and he could “only” get 184 hits last year ( ninth best in the league). He was called selfish, not a team player, arrogant, and other insulting things. There was more than a bit of racism involved concerning these false accusations against a great, loyal player, of that I am certain.
The Mariners have finished in last place six times since the magical 2001 season. Ichiro simply kept playing, getting his 200 +hits, making impressive catches, and showing up year after year. I knew early on that I was watching a Hall-of- Fame caliber performer and I appreciated the honor of being able to do so. Well, let's see what happens now.
Ichiro joins the first-place Yankees who have several ex-Mariners that were thought of as finished by the Seattle “experts”. Raul Ibanez has 43 RBI's, Freddy Garcia is in the starting rotation, Rafael Soriano, who was traded away for some lefty whose fastball couldn't break a window, is their closer and has been one of the best relievers in the league for years now. Don't be surprised if Ichiro goes on a run.
Ichiro is one of those rare individuals that responds to pressure. With the exception of Jackie Robinson, I do not believe anyone was under as much pressure as Ichiro was when he came over as the first position player from Japan. An entire culture was counting on him. His response?
He had 242 hits, 56 stolen bases, a .381 on-base percentage and a batting average of .350. He won both the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player leading the great 2001 team to a record-tying 116 wins. That was the last time the Mariners made the playoffs. I won't repeat all his records but will mention that Ichiro batted over .350 four times and holds the all-time team record with his .372 average in 2004. From 2001-2010, he lead the league in hits seven out of ten years and came in second the other three years.
Ichiro paved the way for many other Japanese players that have made it over, tried their luck at a great game, and succeeded. It has been a pleasure to witness a transformative sports and entertainment figure.
Ichiro thank you for your outstanding performance for this past decade. I was very touched when you bowed to us last night. I bow back, sir. Mom would have cried.
Watch these highlights and see this miracle man in action....