Ichiro Suzuki: the secretive superstar who defied baseball’s steroid era

The baseball world into which Ichiro Suzuki walked in 2001 was amongst swagger, bravado and brawn. 3 years before, Nike marketed baseball having an unfortunate slogan: “Chicks dig the long ball.” Everything involved home runs. The game’s steroid era was at its peak, still per year from a scandal that could expose sluggers’ muscles as chemically gained.

Ichiro, who essentially retired from playing in the age of 44 on Thursday, cast a diminutive estimate that period of giants. He was slender, almost frail, insisting he ought to be called by his name only, something rarely finished in American sports. The most effective baseball fans knew about his nine-year career in Japan, one in that he or she had 1,278 hits along with established himself as his country’s most electric player. But watching him early that first season while using Seattle Mariners, lunging at pitches using a spinning, awkward swing that looks like a mini-tornado, you needed to ponder whether although ever hit a superb, hard fastball.

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That was until he hit those fastballs. Additionally, the sliders and curves and splitters too. It turned out the brilliance of his game were only available the truth he didn’t take mighty swings like all the muscle-bound home-run hitters of his time. Instead he slapped grounders and bloops they become hits together with electric speed. Essentially the most exciting play in baseball that season wasn’t a good time on the bleachers, it absolutely was Ichiro hitting a ground ball to shortstop and beating the throw to first base.

The outfielder who appeared too small to survive a league bloated on steroids was baseball’s best player in 2001. He hit .350, had 242 hits, stole 52 bases and threw out runners from right field with throws as long and true these folks were very difficult to assume, at the same time he made them. In each of your a couple of years before Ichiro arrived, the Mariners had lost a superstar (Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr and finally Alex Rodriguez respectively). He earned Seattle forget all of them, leading the c’s into a major league record 116 victories.

Who might have imagined a gambler who had previously been already 27 by using a game built on speed would always be playing nearly 2 decades and three,089 hits later? But that had been Ichiro. He forever defied expectations and continued to play into his mid-40s, a mystery to your end using a dependence on privacy that bordered on obsessive.

Ichiro distrusted the mob of Japanese journalists who followed him from game-to-game, rarely seemed to relax in the clubhouse and C until relenting later within the career C hid behind a veneer of secrecy. Because Ichiro was big news in those early years, I spent ample time currently talking about him, picking away with the wall he erected.

There was manufactured I sat from the empty, hilltop ballpark above Kobe that were his home stadium for nine years in Japan, imagining just what require been plan to watch him in those times early on. There’s the night put in an Osaka hotel bar using the gregarious hitting coach who had preserved a new Ichiro’s swing when all the others thought it too awkward and demanded or not it’s changed.

Each conversation, each visit was included with a warning from those around Ichiro: these intrusions would displease him. Ultimately, the warnings were flares thrown up to chase away the curious. Ichiro never pushed back with the stories about his life. Instead, he ignored them, batting them away, exactly how he seemed to swat in an imaginary fly before assuming his batting stance.

He leaves area of having a trail of jaw-dropping highlights, those everyone mentions. The laser throw to 3rd base that caught Oakland’s Terrence Long. The inside-the-park home run within the 2007 All Star Game. Although the moments From the nearly all are not on the games. They came hours before in empty stadiums, when I observed him practice his bunts over and over until he had found the most perfect a sense of ball deadening against bat. I loved his batting practice given that it was when this slight player would unleash the slugger he kept tucked inside and launch booming home runs from the restaurant on Safeco Field’s second deck. It absolutely was an Ichiro few got a chance to see. It was the person I really could watch for a long time.

In the end, though, his career stands for a monument with the era whereby he arrived. He was the superstar who did not have to turn his body in to a bloated, cartoonish replica of your muscle man. He weren’t required to hit home runs. He didn’t have to be big.

At an occasion when baseball had lost the simplicity what made the experience great, he had been a reminder which a ground ball to shortstop is more exciting than the usual home run.


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