It's hardly a rule, but oftentimes, when a team is making a big move, it'll make the move on an off day. It's easier for the front office, it's easier for the team itself, it's easier for the media, and it's just easier to give the move the attention it deserves without a game getting in the way. Everybody gets a day to deal and adjust.
The Mariners didn't wait for an off day. Monday afternoon, the Ichiro Suzuki to the . Completely out of nowhere, a franchise icon expected to retire as a one-team player was dealt to the most storied organization in the history of baseball. Monday night, the Seattle Mariners played against Ichiro Suzuki and the New York Yankees.traded
The timing, according to Jack Zduriencik, was coincidental, as the front office didn't give thought to the fact that the Mariners are hosting the Yankees for three games. And I don't have any reason not to trust him, because the baseball operations department doesn't need to worry about those things. They're in the business of roster management, not marketing or transitional efficiency. If Ichiro were traded such that he could make another appearance this year in Seattle, great. If he were traded to a team that wasn't scheduled to visit, so be it. The Mariners and Yankees had a trade, and without delay, the Mariners and Yankees swung it.
But the timing made this ... weird. Sometimes "weird" is a word used lazily because you can't think of a better word, but here I'm not sure there is a better word. The Mariners traded the untradable player, the player walked down the hall to the other clubhouse, and then within a few hours the Mariners played against the untradable player in a different uniform. The significant-other analogy is overused and imperfect, but this was not unlike breaking up and seeing your ex on a date the same day. This was a challenging adjustment, on fast-forward.
Ichiro went through his normal routine during the pregame. He high-fived the lady with the Ichimeter in right field, and he autographed the Ichimeter itself. When he was announced as a starter for the Yankees, he drew a rousing ovation from a crowd including many who might not have known about the trade when they arrived at the ballpark. The game began soon thereafter, and I suspect the ratings were relatively elevated. I and many others were anxious and eager to see what it would be like for Ichiro to play as a visitor in Safeco Field.
Ichiro gloved a putout in the bottom of the first. He gloved it like Ichiro in an unusual uniform. He made his first trip to the plate in the top of the third, following an Andruw Jones strikeout, and Kevin Millwood stepped off the rubber so that Ichiro could take in the standing ovation. Everybody was up, everybody was roaring, and Ichiro bowed. For the first time all day, I actually felt like crying. Some might say that I did cry, although I think there's something in between crying and not crying. My eyes were moist but I didn't have anything dripping down my cheeks. These details are important. I stood at home, I clapped at home, and actually seeing Ichiro, I felt the wave of emotion that didn't crash over me when I was just reading about news on a screen. Before, I knew what had happened, and I knew it was unbelievable. In the third inning, I started to believe it.
Ichiro took a pitch, then lined a single. Moments later, he stole second base. He wound up being stranded on the basepaths, so I guess for Ichiro, some things never change. And maybe it was just me, but I was struck by how, from that point forward, the baseball game felt like a baseball game.
I don't know what I was expecting, but I think I was expecting an experience other than the one that I had. The top of the third was most certainly moving and unusual, but after that, the Mariners played the Yankees and lost. The loss of Ichiro changes things in the clubhouse and it changes things on the roster, but the Mariners lost to the Yankees 4-1 at home and finished with three hits. Two of them were by John Jaso, and most of the hitters were bad. Trading Ichiro changed everything but the way the Mariners played. The Mariners played like the Mariners, and by the end I was more or less back to the same old place. "This team needs help." "I wish the young players were better."
The Yankees outscored the Mariners and then Justin Smoak got demoted to triple-A to swap places with Mike Carp. Just this afternoon the Mariners told us that there are actually other colors, and then they showed us those other colors that are unlike any colors we've ever seen, and then after that it was practically business as usual. Business as usual with a few scattered standing ovations. No offense. Roster move. Young-talent-related frustration.
Of course, that's how it needs to be. The Mariners couldn't just pause the regular season in order to celebrate Ichiro for a week and a half. With games going on, you can't help but focus on the games instead of dwelling on individual players. A baseball game played with Ichiro on your side looks a lot like a baseball game played with Ichiro on the other side. The differences are subtle and Ichiro-shaped.
What it speaks to is that life goes on until you step off. Split up with somebody and you'll still live familiar days, with usual routines and usual concerns. Move somewhere far away and you'll keep searching for the answers you thought you might get from the mere act of moving alone. Remove Ichiro from the Mariners and the Mariners are still the Mariners, with one less Ichiro. That would've been more significant in years past, but even then, he was one player, one part of the Incredible Machine. An amazing, unparalleled part. A part.
I can't just assume that the way that I feel is the way that you feel, and certainly there are people out there who are taking this news with great difficulty. There are people, I'm sure, who are absolutely devastated, people who were floored by the news and who can't now stand up. But the majority of people, I think, have been preparing themselves to move on, and now it turns out moving on isn't all that hard in the day-to-day. There are still the Mariners to worry about, and there are plenty of reasons for worry.
It'll feel its worst in the lulls, I'm sure. I can tell you that I don't think this news has sunk in, not that I know what that means. I don't know what it feels like when something meaningful sinks in, when I finally grasp what's taken place. Maybe nothing ever truly sinks in. Maybe things do sink in and we just feel like they don't because we think we should experience them more powerfully. I expect that I'll feel weirder about Ichiro tomorrow morning. Over the weekend. During the Mariners' next off day, if they ever have another one of those. And of course, there's the offseason, although I'm not going to pretend like I have any idea what that's going to bring.
The little Ichiro-sized box many of us kept in our hearts is going to feel hollow. While we're aware of that sensation, we're going to wonder if Dustin Ackley will figure things out. We're going to wonder if Justin Smoak simply can't hit pitching that isn't triple-A pitching. We're going to wonder if Jesus Montero thinks that left-handed pitchers and right-handed pitchers are two completely different species. We're going to keep filling our minds with the Mariners, with many of the same issues we've already been thinking about for months, and with new issues we don't even know about yet.
Ichiro's gone and we aren't. That's what this comes down to. And to be completely honest, it makes me nervous about the prospect of a Felix Hernandez trade. Not because I think the Mariners will swing one, but because all along I've convinced myself that I don't know if I could remain a Mariners fan if they traded Felix away. That such a deal would be too emotionally crippling, regardless of the return. I want to feel like I would feel that empty. I'm not sure that I actually would. I might get hurt, accept it, and analyze the prospects. I might stick around. I would probably stick around. I would almost certainly stick around.
We're in this for the players, and we're in this for the team. When the team changes players, we wrap our heads around what they've done, and then we accept the new players. I didn't know how I would feel after Ichiro left, and it's something I gave a lot of thought considering Ichiro's age and statistics, but while there are going to be the strange moments, I think I'll be fine. I think I'll be the same. Turns out I mostly still want the Mariners' alleged top prospects to hit like top prospects.
I do know one thing I'll be doing differently for the rest of this season - I'll be watching a lot more New York Yankees games. I'll be watching to see if Ichiro can re-discover the player he used to be, and I'll be watching to see if Ichiro blends with his teammates. Somewhere around 7pm, the Yankees games will end, and somewhere around 7pm, the Mariners games will start. I'll be watching a lot of Mariners games for the rest of the season. I hope the young guys start to hit.