Ichiro is back and I am awash in emotions.
Happy. How can you not be happy? For so many years, Ichiro was the bright spot in dreary season after dreary season, a player unlike any other in baseball history. His bat control was impeccable, his speed daring, his arm strength a force of nature. He was a sensation for so long, and just seeing him play in the outfield at Safeco Field again will be an emotional boost.
Saddened. That player that I just spent a paragraph praising? Yeah, he’s not actually coming back. Prime Ichiro last surfaced in 2009 when, at age 35, he hit .352 (!), led the league with 225 hits (!!), and posted the second-best slugging percentage of his career. Current-day Ichiro is a 44-year-old legend who hasn’t crossed .300 since 2010 and has been worth negative WAR in two of the last three seasons. This is Franco Harris taking the field as a Seahawk, this is Craig Biggio getting to 3,000 career hits while also being worth -2.1 WAR, this is Raul Ibanez hitting .157 in almost 200 PA for the Angels at age 42.
Joyous. This is Ichiro we’re talking about! The Mariners have been blessed with two franchise talents over the last 15 years who became true regional treasures. One is our King, and you can’t have him. The other is a wizard who gave us his own iconic moments: The Throw, The Homer, The Interview (NSFW). He has inspired joy in us for so many years, and what’s wrong with going back to that well once more?
Dejected. If the Mariners really wanted to improve the outfield given recent injuries, there are plenty of better options out there in free agency — Jon Jay and Carlos Gonzalez, to name two. Signing Ichiro is a white flag, then, isn’t it? Can we really be a contender if we’re giving at-bats to a washed-up legend? Does the front office and/or ownership think we’ll overlook the questionable on-field rationale of this move for nostalgia’s sake? It’s not fun to root for a team that is neither a playoff contender nor replete with young prospects with huge potential, and that’s where the Mariners might find themselves. If we’re “fixing” the outfield by acquiring Ichiro, then we’re probably not willing to spend a boatload to add Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn, and definitely not about to spend a yachtload to sign Jake Arrieta.
I don’t want to tell anybody else how to feel about this. If you want to focus on the downsides, I’m with ya. If you want to get swept up in the Ichimania, then there’s nothing wrong with that, either.
But here’s the thing. At the end of the day, baseball is supposed to make us happy. This game is built to make us feel things, to give us a team we can call our own and players we can look up to. I can’t tell you the Mariners’ exact record in most of the last few seasons, but I sure can tell you my favorite moments. I can remember the roar of the crowd after a walkoff, or the Fernando Rodney entrance music. I can remember the crack of the bat on a Robinson Canó homer, or the chanting of the King’s Court. I can remember the elation, the heartbreak, and the triumphs of random, long-forgotten-to-everyone-else summer evening games.
And I sure can remember this.
Maybe I’m just a hopeless romantic. (Okay, fine, I’m definitely a hopeless romantic.) But forgive me if I overlook the questionable decision-making here, and allow me this. For maybe fifty, maybe a hundred, maybe two hundred at-bats this season, we get to salute a legend once again.