Seattle Mariners: Farewell Ichiro, Thank You for Everything
The time has finally come for Mariners icon, and baseball legend, Ichiro Suzuki to hang up his cleats. After 27 completed seasons (18 in the Major Leagues and nine in the Japanese League) and two games into his 28th season, Ichiro officially ended his career on his home soil after the Mariners beat the Oakland Athletics 5-4.
What a ride it has been for the sure-fire future first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee. Ichiro came to the Mariners for the 2001 season. After winning his rights via the posting system, the Mariners, and their fans weren’t exactly sure what they were getting. While pitchers from Japan had come over and been successful, there hadn’t been a position player to come to the Major Leagues and make a large mark.
I remember being in the spring of my junior year in high school and hearing the news out of spring training about how Ichiro was doing. I’ve been a Mariners fan since I can remember and my Mariners fandom was struggling heading into that season. While we were coming off of a playoff appearance we watched yet another offseason go by with a loss of one of our best players.
For three years the Mariners and the fans watched superstars leave the organization. First was Randy Johnson during the 1998 season. Then our hearts were ripped out when Ken Griffey Jr. wanted to leave the team to get closer to home after the 1999 season. We were left with the thought that we were going to build our team around Alex Rodriguez, only to watch him sign a record-breaking contract with the Texas Rangers after the playoff run in 2000.
I remember wondering during the time how we would recover from that and asking myself why our star players didn’t want to stay in Mariner blue. I knew we still had a solid team, but replacing the production of those players was going to be quite challenging.
The Mariners made two key offensive acquisitions during the offseason heading into the 2001 season, but as fans, we still weren’t sure how Bret Boone and little known Ichiro were going to be able to replace Rodriguez’s numbers. Little did we know that both Boone and Ichiro would far surpass any and all expectations en route to leading the Mariners to a record-setting 116 wins.
Ichiro not only exceeded expectations on the field (as evidenced by winning Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in 2001), but he became the superstar we needed to fill the void of the ones who left before him. Many others will write about Ichiro’s career accomplishments, but to me, the thing that stands out the most in my fandom was how he gave us an icon in a time of need.
As fans, we clung to that 2001 team and Ichiro was the catalyst of that team. Each at-bat was noteworthy and every time a ball was hit in his direction I was glued to my seat to see if the other team would test the cannon on his arm. It’s a shame that 2001 was his only playoff appearance for us.
While times got rough for the Mariners, Ichiro remained at the top of his game. 10 straight seasons of 200 hits, an MLB record 262 hits in a season, multiple All-Star games and Gold Gloves. Ichiro was a superstar and he was ours…until 2012. With the team enduring another season of going nowhere, Ichiro asked to be traded.
I was on a plane flying to Hawaii for my honeymoon, and little did I know that I’d be missing Ichiro’s last moments as a Mariner. As soon as we landed and turned our phones on my phone was abuzz with messages about Ichiro being traded to the Yankees. It felt at that time that we might be seeing the beginning of the end of Ichiro’s illustrious career.
Trade him to a contender, let him experience the postseason again, and then he can ride off into the sunset, he was 38 years old at the time of the trade and his skills were diminishing. I remember getting off the plane and feeling a pang of sadness that I didn’t get to see him play in person one last time.
Little did I know that he would go on to play seven more seasons after the trade.
Ichiro defied the laws of age and the laws of baseball. His unique style made him spectacular and confusing all at once. Fans clamored for a chance to see the real Ichiro, but often times were left wanting more as Ichiro remained very private and even guarded during his career.
Many Seattle area media members over the years have written about Ichiro’s routines, his obsession with 200 hits, even painting a picture that Ichiro might not have been the greatest teammate.
When the team brought him back last season I wasn’t sure what to think. As a baseball move, I didn’t like it. I felt what most of us felt, he didn’t fit on the roster and this was just the same old Mariners trying to recapture their past glory and sell more tickets, but instead, I saw a different Ichiro. On the field, Ichiro didn’t do much in his limited action with the team last year, but it was off the field where I noticed the difference.
I signed my four-year-old son up for the Mariners kids club last season and we got to attend batting practice. While he wanted to see Nelson Cruz and Mitch Haniger I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the special assistant to the chairman as we all knew he was still working out with the team even though no longer on the roster.
There were only about 20 of us down there watching batting practice when Ichiro came out. I was instantly star struck as I had never been that close to the legend before. I was curious to see what he was going to do, and what I saw amazed me. I saw Ichiro chat with teammates as expected, but then I saw him help and teach.
He was working with players, helping them perfect their skills with tips and instruction, and they were soaking up everything he was saying. Players were still in awe of Ichiro when he stepped in the box. Laughing and joking as Ichiro was playing a game with coaches about where he could hit the ball. It was amazing to watch as Ichiro hit the ball exactly where the target was each time.
When Ichiro was done hitting (he was the last one on the field) he headed for the dugout. Those of us there were hoping for him to stop, to wave, anything, just a chance to see him up close. He did one better. He stopped and signed autographs for each one of us in attendance.
He didn’t speak or even take much time, but it showed me he cared about us as fans. While that moment probably wasn’t important to him, he knew how important it was to us.
I was the last person in line before Ichiro entered the dugout and that gave me a chance to say thank you to one of the greatest hitters to ever play the game, and not just thank you for the autograph but thank you for everything.
As we left the field that day I got to explain to my son who Ichiro was and how special it was to get a ball signed by him. It was a memory, in a long line of Ichiro moments, that I will never forget.
Thank you for everything Ichiro. You will be missed.