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What Ichiro means to me

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Mariners v Athletics Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Grant: If you played Little League in Seattle between 2001 and 2010—heck, maybe if you played anywhere in the world—there’s a high chance you mimicked Ichiro’s getting-ready stance. But there’s no chance you mimicked everything else that he could do, because nobody could mimic that. Ichiro is a meteor shower, a wondrous sight impossible to look away from. 262 hits in a single season? Laser beam throws from right field? The level of precision Ichiro brought to every aspect of baseball is perhaps unparalleled. What a special player, and it was a true joy to call him ours for the last two decades.

Shay: From the moment he was born, my dad was a die-hard Padres fan. He loved the brown and yellow and that weird chicken mascot as if they were his own. In 2001 he was living in Federal Way, and despite his allegiance to the Friars, my dad reveled in Ichiro playing only miles away from where he was.

After my dad passed away this year, I was given many of his baseball belongings: baseball cards, his Little League mitt, even the newspaper from when Tony Gwynn died. Among the pile of “one man’s trash, my literal treasure” was an Ichiro bobblehead. This bobblehead had the dust to prove it had been around longer than the freshmen being dropped off at college this fall. What I didn’t realize until this week, though, was that the six-month anniversary of my dad’s death is this Saturday—the day of Ichiro’s Hall of Fame ceremony. For me, Ichiro is a connection for me to my dad, even if he was a Padres fan.

Seattle Mariners v Colorado Rockies Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Eric: I consider myself extremely fortunate and privileged that I was able to see both Ichiro’s first Mariners home opener in 2001 and his final one in 2018. In between those two events, Ichiro made his MLB Hall of Fame case ironclad as he became the most singular baseball player of his era. In between those two events, my teenage years ended and a large and important chapter of my adult life happened, events that have had an indelible influence on me and will continue to shape the rest of my existence on this planet. I don’t want to just repeat what I wrote in 2018, but my mind still boggles at the passage of time in regards to Ichiro’s career and how consistent he was throughout it. It was different for me than with Griffey, Jr., since I was still just learning how the game even worked during his earliest seasons, but both attained that untouchable coolness level of an idol for me. Félix was like that, too, but I was already out of college by 2006, so he’s been firmly in my “adult” era for his whole career. Ichiro spanned the final years of my adolescence, my college days, my early adulthood 9-5-ing days and then even into my married days and finally into parenthood. All the while, there was Ichiro with the same iconic warm-up and walk-up routine, same batting stance, and the same penchant for hitting perfect line-drive base hits. I’ll always be thankful for Ichiro and the consistent joy and amazement he brought to our lives as Mariners fans.

John: I am a sucker for a star. The hero’s journey has sunk its hooks into my consciousness from an early age, and despite a hard-earned passion for the triumph of collective effort, tales and demonstrations of individual exceptionalism, bravery, indefatigability, creativity, loyalty - they still move my heart more than most anything. So it was, then, that as a child of the 90s, too young to remember ‘95, perhaps half-hazily recalling a party for playoff ball in ‘97, and being picked up at the bus stop with a radio to hear Carlos Guillen drop down The Bunt in ‘00, every fiber of my baseball-loving heart loves Ichiro Suzuki. The Seattle Mariners are a conduit for connection to the people and places that make up “home” to me. They will always be special to me, jaded as the sport and industry sometimes can make me. But Ichiro was a reason to come to the park, for a decade and change, a cause for connection and celebration of the team and the sport I have loved since I knew I loved anything. He made it worthwhile to watch, knowing every time through the order you might see something exceptional, every ball in his direction the chance for something marvelous. I hope he feels the pride and joy in himself that we feel in him. No player has ever brought me more.

Zach: Aesthetically, I’m lukewarm on pitching and power. For me, it’s all about speed, defense, and balls in play, so Ichiro’s 80 hit, 80 speed, 80 field, 80 throw, 30 power was bound to make me fall in love. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been marveling more at Ichiro’s longevity and how hard he must have worked to post every day well into his 40s. Now that I’m in my age-35 season, when my knees ache or I just feel kind of crappy and don’t want to put in the effort on a given day, I think about how at 36, Ichiro played all 162, got 214 hits and stole 42 bases, and then I get up anyway.

Minnesota Twins v Seattle Mariners Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Lou: My dad and I went to a game during Ichiro’s first or second season at which we were seated next to a Japanese family. They had come to Seattle specifically to see Ichiro, and had seemingly come to the stadium right off the plane because after the game started they opened a cooler bag and took out a bunch of sushi they brought with them from Japan and passed it around to share with all the Americans sitting in our section. Years later, in college or while traveling, I’d tell people I was from Seattle and occasionally they’d just respond “Ichiro?”. One time I mentioned I was a Mariners fan and a stranger silently assumed the pose. I don’t know Ichiro, but I have known a variety of people because of Ichiro, and those experiences taught me to be proud of my city. Someday I hope to see a baseball game in Japan and return the favor. What food should I bring to share?

Bren: Ichiro was and is the kind of player that evokes feelings that are almost impossible to capture with words. Every time you capture one element of his play style or personality, you seem to leave an equally important piece in the shadows. Over the years, Ichiro the player and the person have evolved in meaning to me. It was always easy to marvel at his raw skill, which served as a balm for several years of rough Mariners fandom. Since then it has grown into a much wider appreciation not just for the level of dedication and love for the game that make the man, but an appreciation for the Ichiros of the world in all aspects of my life. There are quiet heroes all around us, dedicated, loving, timeless. Indomitable spirits that are the beacons for those that have lost our way in the storm. Even when you have years and years to appreciate them, the time will always feel too short.

Seattle Mariners’ Ichiro Suzuki sits in the dugout LUCY NICHOLSON/AFP via Getty Images

Nick: Growing up as a half-Japanese kid who was obsessed with baseball, it’s probably not surprising to learn that Ichiro is easily my favorite player of all time.

The microaggressions, even as a white-ish-passing kid, are unavoidable going through the public school system. Asians aren’t athletic, they’re math dorks. Asians are too small, too weak. Better with a calculator than a baseball. There’s more to this then I could possibly cram into what’s supposed to be a short paragraph about Ichiro, but it’s safe to say these microaggressions became full-on racist banter for Ichiro when he first came to the States. I wish I could speak with (see: strangle) the radio host from Arizona who said, prior to the 2001 season:

“[Hideo] Nomo could get by his first year by whirligigging around and throwing foreign junk at the American hitters. They hadn’t seen it before, and so he did all right. Now that Nomo’s been in the league a couple of years, the batters are starting to tear into his Japanese bag of tricks. Ichiro’s not going to have that luxury. The first time he sees a Randy Johnson or Roger Clemens fastball, he’s going to see that Japanese tricks don’t cut it over here.”

This is the same plain, disgusting racism that harkens back to WWII-era caricatures and language around Japanese people. This is the same boogeyman of the “sneaky, tricky Jap” that saw countless of my family members and community rounded up like cattle and sent out to camps in the desert while their property and businesses were stolen from them.

So, it’s not surprising to me now when I think back to how much the older Japanese in my family loved/loves him. He shattered racist implications, proved that an Asian man didn’t need “Japanese tricks” to succeed: he was just an exceptional, supernatural athlete. I know that it’s special to countless Japanese-Americans that one of the greatest baseball players of all time looked like us, talked like us, ate the same food we ate. But most of all, he was a reminder that, as always, America has been wrong about us.

Selfishly, Ichiro feels like he belongs to us. But truly, Ichiro belongs to everyone who is treated like they don’t belong, especially in the world of sports. Ichiro means that you do belong.