All indications are that when the Major League Season opens on Wednesday in Japan, the great Ichiro Suzuki will be on the active roster for the Seattle Mariners. I am greatly looking forward to this for a number of reasons.
First of all, I am a sentimentalist. I love stories about a person returning home to glory. Ichiro, of course, was an outstanding player in Japan before coming the the USA where he delighted fans for 18 seasons. Ichiro is a legend, one of the best hitters ever, and a player that I always found very easy to root for. Now 45-years old, and with his best days clearly behind him, the world will get one last look at the great Ichiro as he plays in what will probably be his final two Major League games. I love how this will complete the circle for him as the grand story will come to a close right where it began.
More sentimentality – my youngest son, Ethan, is now a man. He’s twenty-year old, a college student, a Resident Advisor in his dorm, a leader… He’s no longer a little kid. When Ethan was growing up, Ichiro was his first favorite player. He absolutely LOVED Ichiro. As a little boy, a toddler, swinging a plastic bat and hitting the ball left-handed off a small batting-tee, Ethan’s swing, almost from the first time he swung, was Ichiro-like. It was so fun and so cute and so wonderful. Ethan connected to Ichiro in a special way that was more than just a little kid rooting for a player. I think, as he grew up, that sometimes Ethan saw himself in Ichiro in ways only fans of players can. I know that when I was a boy, I saw myself as Graig Nettles. (Things like this are the magic of childhood.) Because of Ichiro, Ethan became fascinated with Japan and Japanese culture. This love made the Yankees’ acquisition of Hideki Matsui even more exciting in my home. Due to the fact that he saw him play every day, Hideki Matsui became Ethan’s favorite player. The years of Matsui’s career, and Ethan’s childhood sped by in a blur. It went way too fast. After Matsui retired, we were thrilled when Ichiro became a Yankee. We loved every moment that he played in the Bronx. Because of all of this, and so much more, I am thrilled that Ethan will get one last chance to see his favorite player play. I’m happy for Ichiro, but I’m even happier for Ethan – he will get one last chance, a final few moments, to find that special joy of seeing one’s childhood hero playing baseball.
I am also a believer in hard work and in never giving up. When Ichiro’s season (and possible career) ended last year after only 15 games (and a .205 batting average), it would have been easy for him to give up, but he didn’t. He kept at it. His workout routines are legendary. His dedication amazing. Throughout the season, Suzuki trained with the team, the team he no longer played for. He pushed his mid-40’s body as hard as he could for the chance to hopefully not retire, to possibly gain some edge, or to find some past magic. He dedicated himself to the task of being his best self, even when all the odds were stacked against him. Now, a year later, he’s back, for what will most likely be the final two games of his professional career. This is something he worked extremely hard for and I am looking forward to seeing it all play out.
I’m looking forward these opening games of the 2019 baseball season. I’m looking forward to seeing Ichiro running out onto the field. I’m looking forward to the cheers, the applause, the glory, the bows, and the wonder. I’m looking forward to the tears rolling down my face as I watch this special player for the last few times. I look forward to the memories that will flood me as I watch. I look forward to talking with Ethan about the games and to watching them together when he is home again. I look forward to the anticipation that comes with each and every at bat – the hope for something truly special. I hope there is just a little magic left in Ichiro’s bat. I’m hoping his last swing results in a home run. Wouldn’t that be grand? Go, go, go Ichiro!