I don’t like endings. It’s surprising, isn’t it, for someone who lives on the cutting edge of innovation, who spends most of her time thinking about how new technology can change the world. I live in a realm of new ideas and young lives. And yet I am notoriously bad at letting go of the past, and especially at leaving things to which I have devoted significant hours of my life, things I still love.
So, after Thursday’s announcement, I think I understand now what Ichiro’s plan was, and it feels… right. I would have done the same thing, in his position – played and played and played until I was not allowed to play anymore, and then stepped out without fanfare, only to show up again as a mentor and at all the team reunions.
In my short life, I’ve done such things more than once.
So, keeping with this mentality, I am not going to try to write some beautiful tribute to my favorite ballplayer, no waxing poetic on what he has meant to me since I first saw him hit spring training batting practice in 2001 (I had just turned six that year).
I could write that essay, too, of course. I could tell you about the excitement surrounding Allen Turner’s visit to the Seattle Japanese Language School ("he talks to Ichiro," we second-graders told each other, "he must have superpowers"). I could tell you about sitting on the floor of a cancer-ridden friend’s living room in Cleveland, cheering out loud as our wiry outfielder rounded the bases on the in-the-park home run that earned him an All-Star MVP (my friend passed away three weeks later). I could quote countless conversations had while traveling in Japan that all went the same way ("Where are you from?" "Seattle." "Ahhh! Ichiro!").
I could recount the moment I found out he’d hit 200+ hits for the tenth year in a row (on a train in Osaka, via another passenger’s phone), the moment I found out we’d traded him to the Yankees (as I jumped into my dad’s 1997 Infinity sedan after welding class, still in my leather jacket and steel-tipped boots, angry tears pooling in my eyes), and the moment I found out he’d hit his 3000th hit (sitting on the floor of my bedroom, scrolling through my Twitter feed, beaming with pride).
But this is a transition, not an ending, so let’s not be maudlin about the past. Even though I am blinking back tears on the bus as I scroll through Twitter, I feel surprisingly at peace with the way things played out. Which is funny, because all week I’ve felt sick to my stomach about the retirement rumors. They have driven me to distraction at work and seeped into my dreams. I woke up on Wednesday morning and just felt… something; that strange little voice in my head was back, and it told me "If Ichiro is playing tonight, you need to be there."
I will be forever grateful to that little voice.
And so, around 3pm when the lineup came out, I texted my mom. We met at a bus stop and headed to Safeco.
You know the rest of that story, of course. I don’t think I’ve ever left a game so depressed – it was a rough loss because of Paxton’s incredible outing and the joy we were all feeling until the 8th inning. And then when Ichiro came up, hit a line drive that was just foul, and then struck out, it felt like all the hope left the stadium in one breath.
I had the thought on Thursday morning that it’s a shame that was his last at-bat. But then it occurred to me, the last at-bat is just another at-bat in a 9929-at-bat MLB career. 1/9929. How much can it really matter? What matters, in terms of performance, has already been accomplished. There is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to regret. Loose ends are an illusion anyway, constructed by our narrative-seeking minds – life is continuous. Every beginning and ending is just another moment.
Would I have enjoyed a chance to celebrate over a final series? Yes. Am I disappointed I can’t get my whole family together to see Ichiro play one last time? Yes. But I understand and respect the decision that was made. Again, I would have done the same thing in his position.
One last thing: I think I’ve been worried, too, about Ichiro as a human being. (It’s funny how much we care about people we don’t know personally.) I kept thinking about Dee Gordon’s comment last year: "I really hope he keeps playing, because I don’t want him to die." And the man’s own quip, when questioned by a reporter, that what he’ll do when he retires is "die."
Ichiro not playing baseball is like the result of dividing by zero – it’s undefined, unfathomable. Before Thursday, it seemed like if he ever stopped, he’d simply disappear.
But taking on a front office role and continuing to be in the clubhouse is the opposite of disappearing. And hearing his comment that "The last two months are the happiest I’ve been in my career," well, I think I will be able to sleep at night.
If he’s happy, I can be happy.
And anyway, this isn’t the end. There’s a whole lot of future left, and it has yet to be written.