Thank You, Ichiro

Despite growing up in New Jersey, I have been a Mariners fan from day one.

Whenever people ask me why my answer is always the same. My mom grew up in Washington, that side of the family still lives out there, and I was simply born into it. However, this past weekend in Seattle made me realize something that I think I was always aware of but was made crystal clear to me on Saturday afternoon. There is another piece of the equation that is equally deserving of making me a Mariners fan (for better or worse) and that is Ichiro Suzuki.

Having been born in 1991, the 1995 season is not something that I experienced myself. Sure, I’ve seen the highlights as often as anybody else, but I didn’t live the 1995 season the way that many of you did. I didn’t see Edgar line one down the left field line for a base hit in real-time. I didn’t experience Griffey morphing into the face of baseball. By the time I really knew Randy Johnson, I knew him as the guy that led the Diamondbacks to the World Series. Hell, I never even stepped foot in the Kingdome.

But what I did do was take in every single breath of the Ichiro Suzuki experience. I still vividly remember walking out of the Target in Clark, New Jersey, opening the pack of baseball cards I convinced my mom to buy for me, and seeing Ichiro sitting right on top. Given that I was in 4th grade and the internet was still basically useless (aka, the good old days), the only information I had about this guy I had never heard of was what was provided to me by this card.

A brief blurb about how he was attempting to become the first position player to come from Japan to play in Major League Baseball and the entirety of his career stats for the Orix Blue Wave. As far as baseball cards go, it was a pretty good introduction, and I was hooked from that moment on.

To that point, watching the Mariners was something I enjoyed doing when we would visit my grandparents in Washington and I was actually able to watch them on TV. The Mariners weren’t quite part of me yet, though. Ichiro changed that. From articles in the sports section of my local New Jersey-based newspaper, to the covers and posters from my issues of Sports Illustrated for Kids, to the two issues of the Mariners Mojo McDonald’s comic books I still have, even this east coast kid was given the ability to and did consume every single drop of Ichiro content available.

When I played whiffle ball with my friends, Ichiro was who I emulated. When I woke up every morning to find the All-Star Game voting updates and box scores that hopefully made it into print in time for the day’s paper, it was Ichiro’s name I looked for. When we made our annual trek to Washington in the summer, I demanded we go see him play.

(By the way, if isn’t yet clear, being a fan of a west coast team while living on the east coast is the wooooooorst.)

This devotion continued in its various forms throughout the years as following the Mariners thankfully became easier and easier (though let me tell you, when the team is bad and Sims and Blowers kind of stop talking around the 5th inning or so, it’s really tough to stay awake after a 10pm start time). When the time came to finally trade him in 2012, I was of course sad, but also overjoyed that he was finally getting a long overdue chance at a World Series title.

When he stepped onto the field in Japan in 2019 and the news that he was planning on retiring after the game spread like wildfire on Twitter, I anticipated being sad. I did not anticipate breaking into full-on tears while sitting in my car in the parking lot before work. The emotional significance of the reason why I truly fell in love with baseball and the Seattle Mariners hanging up his cleats hit me like a damn truck.

Since that day, there have been other baseball-related moments that have hit me with at least a similar amount of force. Felix’s last game. Kyle Seager’s last game and the subsequent JP Crawford interview (Angie, how did you get through that???). When I told my high school team in Virginia that it would be my last game coaching them because I was moving. But when the crowd started chanting “I-CHI-RO” on Saturday I felt myself being shot through time back through every memory I have of that graceful weirdo.

I felt truly lucky to be one of the (relative) few there to watch him be inducted into the team Hall of Fame. To witness the penultimate conclusion of his career (you’re next, Cooperstown) was something that I honestly never envisioned I’d have the chance to do. As much as I would absolutely love to still see him jogging out to right field every day, I am truly privileged to have gotten the opportunity to watch my idol’s career in Major League Baseball from start to finish.

Baseball is still a massive part of my life. I live outside of Seattle now, so I have season tickets. I watch baseball every night (with a VPN of course, thanks MLB). I coach high school baseball. I still play baseball from time to time. I even still play fantasy baseball. Every single day of my life involves baseball in one way or another. It is as much a part of me as anything else and has helped shape my life.

And that is thanks to you, Ichiro. You don’t know me, and you never will. But you changed my life.

Thank you for everything.

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