The news struck me a bit harder than I had anticipated.
While logically I know this is the right move to make for the organization, my emotions betray me and an attack of nostalgia has unearthed many feelings that have been buried over the course of two poor seasons. Over the past 11 years one player, one face, has stayed consistent: Ichiro. The team has been an ever evolving, ever changing agglomeration over the years but fans could always count on Ichiro year in and year out. Beginning my Mariners journey sometime during the 2002 season, I have never known a Mariners team without the Japanese super star and in some strange way, even though I have yet to watch a game without him, it feels very empty, almost wrong. Letting go has become exceptionally hard, especially knowing the Mariners have just given up the final piece of an era of when they were a good baseball team. Familiarity was escaped us and now as a fan we must face the fear of the unknown.
Unfortunately, I missed Ichiro’s coming out party in 2001, and all that came with it. I missed his intricate production during a 116 win season, I missed the play at first that Ichiro’s new teammate Derek Jeter proclaimed would change the timing of every short stop in the game. I missed the laser beam throw that Dave Niehaus insisted was “something out of Star Wars!”. I missed the 242 hits, the .350 average, and the Rookie of the Year and MVP hardware. So when I think back upon what I’ll remember most, I’ll think about 2004 and the season Ichiro broke George Sisler’s single season hit record. It was the single most amazing season I had ever witnessed, and probably the best I’ll see for some time. I’ll remember Ichiro and Junior and I’ll remember several milestones including his 200 hit season streak and his 2500th base knock, but in the end the 2004 season will embody my memory of him.
Many times over the course of his stay in Seattle the media has scrutinized Ichiro. Most often, accusing him of being selfish, on the word of less than savory teammates. The whole mess has always been hogwash and even in his final hour Ichiro proved to be everything but selfish. Ichiro asked for this trade. Astute as he is, Ichiro said that he realized he had no place on this rebuilding team going forward and asked the organization to move him so that the younger players could have a chance to develop. Yes, he was traded to the Yankees where he will be given the chance to compete in the playoffs, but at the same time, he will be playing in a reduced role compaired to that which he had here in Seattle. I certainly wouldn’t call that selfish.
Ichiro has been true to Seattle since day one.
Other than the past two seasons, the Mariners have found it impossible to find a player as consistently good as Ichiro. When he retires, or returns home to Japan to finish out his career and we take a moment to reminisce on his time in Seattle, no one will remember that he struggled to finish his career, especially considering he will probably end it with another team.
I don’t know how I am going to handle seeing Ichiro in another uniform tonight, and I don’t really know how to wrap up 11 seasons into a nice neat bow. I don’t really know if that is even possible. As a player, the current Ichiro is replaceable. As an icon, as a symbol,for everything he has meant to these fans and this city, he is irreplaceable. He has established himself as one of the best Mariners in history, in just 11 short seasons. His career is exemplary, and I am proud to say I was able to witness it unfold before my eyes. The Yankees attempted to outbid Seattle for Ichiro 12 years ago and failed, Seattle reaped the benefits. But Ichiro hardly reaped the benefits from Seattle. Now the tables are turned. The Yankees may not be receiving a whole lot from the former super star, but maybe they can help Ichiro obtain that elusive World Series ring.
Farewell Ichiro, and thank you for everything.