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An open letter to Shohei Ohtani

A player who can change baseball should come to a city that needs a change.

South Korea v Japan - WBSC Premier 12 Semi Final Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images

拝啓 小谷 勝丙,

それは非常に寒いです。 あなたが暖かく滞在していることを願っています。

And that’s enough Google translate. I apologize for the very bad Japanese, but I thought I should make an effort, similar to the effort you have made in learning English.

I don’t know a lot about Japanese culture, and what I do know is leftover from working at my college’s writing center and studying different norms of cultural communication. One thing that I learned in researching how to write a Japanese-style letter is you often open with general talk of the seasons, even in formal business letters, and close by circling back around to that, something I was happy enough to input in Google translate. “It has become cold.” That’s not just a description of the weather outside right now, but a metaphor for baseball in Seattle over the last 20 years.

The first time the Mariners made the playoffs, you, Shohei, were one year old. They made it to the postseason again in 2000 and 2001, when you were in first grade, and each time they failed to make it to the World Series. They lost in 1995, when they were made of magic and refused to lose, until they did; they lost in 2000, when Kazuhiro Sasaki won Rookie of the Year, the second-oldest player to ever win that award (he missed first place by 34 days); and they lost in 2001, when they won 116 games, more than any other baseball team since 1906, and Ichiro Suzuki won the MVP and Rookie of the Year (at a relatively young age 28).

And those were the good years. Since then, baseball in Seattle has been an exercise in disappointment. There have been years that were better than others, and many that were much, much worse. There have been stars that have passed through town, and some that have stayed, and a very small number that have been grown here. Some of these stars are on the team now, but it has not helped the team get to the postseason. The Mariners are in need of a talent that can push them over this edge, the kind of player who can spark a team to greatness, that can inspire the city to love and be excited about baseball again. Everyone wants you, Shohei, but no one needs you like the Mariners do.

Some people have speculated that you will want to go to a team on the brink of winning it all. Yankees fans, who are used to getting what they want, have already begun to pencil in your name atop the pitching depth chart. Who wouldn’t want to be a Yankee, after all, with their exciting young core, and the glamor of playing ball in New York City, and the incredible honor and history of donning pinstripes? Why not go the Ichiro route, but cut out the time spent in the northwest corner of the country?

Or perhaps, as many have suggested, you will go to play for the Dodgers, to a place where there’s beaches and movie stars and the sun is always shining. In Los Angeles it’s possible to re-create any location in the world, and yet the stories LA loves telling the most are its own stories. The thing about it, about New York and LA both, is it’s impossible, while there, to get away from the there-ness of each place; great cities will insist on themselves in that way. The sun in LA, the lights of New York; each are terrifically bright, and noisy, and crowded.

In Seattle right now, the weather is cool, headed toward cold, and the sky is blanketed in gray. The light here has a different quality, more muted, and the air smells of salt and petrichor and occasionally creosote from the railroad ties that dot the city gardens and parks. Puget Sound is different every day; to outsiders, it looks gray in the winter, blue in the summer, but if you live here long enough you learn to recognize the water’s subtle moods, how it’s not exactly blue but jade green one day, sparkling sapphire the next. Yesterday the Sound was calm, the color of a set of pewter candlesticks; today the wind whipped it into crags peaked with white. These are the kinds of things you can notice in a place that lets you talk to nature whenever you want, in a city full of crossing-over places. It isn’t the bright lights of New York or the movie-set beauty of LA, but it’s a place that will let you breathe. For someone who is used to being followed around by reporters and fans, maybe that sounds appealing to you, some breathing space.

It’s hard to find much information about you, Shohei, but there is your list of goals, and also this goal matrix from your first year in high school.

Down in the left-hand corner are the personal qualities: being thankful, being charitable, being courteous, and being “a person being loved by everyone.” In an interview with Jon Morosi last year, you said you want to “inspire numerous people” with your play, that if they’re having a bad day or personal issues you can cheer them up by competing as hard as you can. This, you said, is the most honorable way of playing baseball. If you come to the Seattle Mariners, Shohei, you will delight a fanbase that hasn’t had much to celebrate for the past two decades. Not only that, you will delight your teammates, who want to win, who have been frustrated, too. Regardless of the outcome—and we can do that, here, in Seattle, where the light is muted—you will be a lightning rod that helps turn Seattle into a baseball city. People will come to the park to see you pitch, or hit, or just wear a Seattle Mariners uniform and walk around in it. Safeco, which has been quiet more often than not since it was built (you were five at the time), will be electric.

And if you do that, if you come here and change baseball in this city, even if you leave one day, your contribution will still be recognized. You will be a person beloved by everyone. Seattle doesn’t forget:

Please come to Seattle, Shohei. Please come change baseball in our city.


Seattle Mariners Fans Everywhere