Seattle Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki was traded to the visiting New York Yankees hours before the game today. The news was all the more surprising because there hadn’t been any indication that a trade was in the works. Mr. Suzuki, commonly known only by his given name, said that he wasn’t comfortable on a team as young as the Mariners. There’s no reason not to take the man at his word, but I suspect that a player of his caliber entering the twilight of his career wanted at least a shot at a Series.
And with the Yankees, he should get it. The Bronx Bombers have the best record in MLB at the moment, and the Mariners. . . don’t. The local team is probably a couple of seasons away from contending for a pennant, and time isn’t on Ichiro’s side.
It’s hard to overstate the impact Ichiro had on the Mariners. After tearing up the Nippon Professional League for nine years (7x All-Star, 7x Gold Glove), he made his MLB debut with the Mariners in 2001, becoming the first position player to make the transition from NPB to MLB. During his rookie season, no pitching staff in the American League could solve him until the ALCS against the Yankees. People would stop what they were doing to watch Ichiro at-bats. He won just about every award there was that year: AL MVP, AL Stolen Base Champion, AL Rookie of the Year, AL Batting Champion(first of two), All-Star (first of ten consecutive), Gold Glove (first of ten consecutive), and Silver Slugger (first of three).
Over the next 11 seasons he’d rack up 10 consecutive seasons with 200+ hits, including setting the MLB record of 262 in 2004. His defense was no less capable. Right field became known as ‘Area 51’ (after his uniform number), because nothing that flew out there was coming back. Many a base runner learned not to challenge his arm. He would become the face of the franchise, and the reason to go to a Mariners game. It appeared that he’d be that rare player who spends their entire career with one team.
Recently the years have started to catch up to Ichiro. He’s a step slower on the base paths, and his hitting eye isn’t what it was. He’s still a real threat to get on base when he enters the batter’s box, and makes pitchers nervous when he’s on base. Many a time I’ve watched him get a hit, steal a base, or make a spectacular play in the field, and thought ‘I’m glad he’s on our side’. Well, that’s no longer the case. In his first at-bat as a Yankee, he hit a single. Then he stole a base. The last out of the game was made by an Ichiro catch. Of course.
As a Mariners fan, I’m not happy to see Ichiro go to the Yankees. As a baseball fan, I hope this first-round Hall of Famer gets his shot at a World Series. Sayounara, soshite un, ichiro-san。