Ichiro Suzuki's return to the Seattle Mariners won't resolve his internal battle


37 bookmarks. First posted by bcobb march 2018.


DAY 1: FEB. 4, 2018

"There is timing in the whole life of the warrior, in his thriving and declining, in his harmony and discord."
--Musashi Miyamoto (circa 1584-1645), samurai and artist

Ichiro Suzuki steps out of the cold into the small restaurant that serves him dinner most nights. It's winter in Kobe, Japan, where he once played professional baseball and where he comes during the offseason to train. His wife, Yumiko, is back home in Seattle. He is here alone, free from the untidy bits of domestic life that might break his focus. Every day, he works out in a professional stadium he rents, and then he usually comes to this restaurant, which feels like a country inn transported to the city. It's tucked away on the fifth floor of a downtown building and accessible by a tiny elevator. Someone on the staff meets Ichiro at the back door so he can slip in unseen. Someone else rushes to take his coat, and Ichiro sits at a small bar with his back to the rest of the diners. Two friends join him. Inside the warm and glowing room, the chef slips on his traditional coat as he greets Ichiro in mock surprise.

"Thanks for coming again," says the chef, wearing Miami Marlins shorts.

"You guys made me wait outside," Ichiro jokes.

Ichiro is a meticulous man, held in orbit by patterns and attention to detail. This place specializes in beef tongue, slicing it thin by hand and serving it raw alongside hot cast-iron skillets. They do one thing perfectly, which appeals to Ichiro. Tonight he's got dark jeans rolled up to the calf, each leg even, and a gray T-shirt under a white button-down with a skinny tie. His hair looks darker than in some recent photos, maybe the lighting, maybe a dye job. Either way, not even a 44-year-old future Hall of Famer is immune from the insecurities and diminishments that come with time. This winter is the most insecure and diminished he's been.

He doesn't have a professional baseball contract in America or Japan. His agent, John Boggs, has called, texted and emailed teams so often that one MLB general manager now calls Boggs "the elephant hunter," because he's stalking his prey. Boggs recently sent an email to all 30 teams. Only one wrote back to decline. Ichiro hasn't spoken to Boggs once this offseason, locked in on what he and his aging body can control.

The restaurant fills up. Customers take off their shoes. At every table, signs warn that no pictures can be taken. Ichiro waves at an older couple. A producer type brings two young women over to meet him, and Ichiro makes small talk before they bow and recede. He makes some jokes about aging and turns a wine bottle in his hand to read the label. The waiters, wearing sandals and blue bandannas, sling plates of raw tongue and mugs of cold beer with ice flecks in them. The chef installs a fresh gas can and sets down a cast-iron grill in front of Ichiro.

"This is really delicious," Ichiro says.

He and his companions discuss the future, debating philosophies of business, a new world opening up. Later they turn nostalgic and talk about the past. He started training every day in the third grade and has never stopped. Once during his career he took a vacation, a trip to Milan that he hated. This past October, Marlins infielder Dee Gordon came to get something at the clubhouse after the season. He heard the crack of a bat in the cages and found Ichiro there, getting in his daily swings. "I really just hope he keeps playing," Gordon says with a chuckle, "because I don't want him to die. I believe he might die if he doesn't keep playing. What is Ichiro gonna do if he doesn't play baseball?"

Former teammates all have favorite Ichiro stories, about how he carries his bats in a custom humidor case to keep out moisture, how in the minors he'd swing the bat for 10 minutes every night before going to sleep, or wake up some mornings to swing alone in the dark from 1 to 4 a.m. All the stories make the same point: He has methodically stripped away everything from his life except baseball. Former first baseman Mike Sweeney, who got close to Ichiro in Seattle, tells one about getting a call from an old teammate who'd had an off-day in New York. You're not gonna believe this, the guy began. He'd brought along his wife and they walked through Central Park, thrilled to be together in such a serene place. Far off in the distance, at a sandlot field with an old backstop that looked leftover from the 1940s, they saw a guy playing long toss. The big leaguer did the quick math and figured the distant stranger was throwing 300 feet on the fly. Curious, he walked closer. The guy hit balls into the backstop, the powerful shotgun blast of real contact familiar to any serious player. He became impressed, so he got even closer, close enough to see.

The man working out alone in Central Park was Ichiro.

His agent and those close to him think he'll sign with a Japanese team if no offer comes from the major leagues. Television crews floated around the Ginza district in Tokyo the night before asking people what they think about Ichiro's future. Ichiro, as usual, is saying nothing. He's a cipher, keeping himself hidden, yet his yearning has never been more visible. His old team, the Orix Buffaloes, wants him back desperately -- but Japanese spring training started three days ago and Ichiro remains in Kobe. For a private man, these three days speak loudly about his need for another season in America. Over the years, he's talked about playing until he's 50 but also of his desire to "vanish" once his career ends. Those two desires exist in opposition, and if America never calls, he holds the power to make either of them real. He can sign with Orix, or he can fade away. The choice is his.

These are the things working in his life at dinner, a cold Sunday night between the Rokko mountains and Osaka Bay. Ichiro finally stands to leave. Two customers step into the aisle and bow, not the perfunctory half-bow of business associates and hotel bellmen, but a full to-the-waist bow of deep respect. Is this what the end of a great career looks like up close? Ichiro hates not playing baseball, but he might hate playing poorly even more. When he's slumping, his wife has said, she will wake up and find him crying in his sleep. The first time he went on the disabled list as a major leaguer was because of a bleeding stomach ulcer. That year, he'd led Japan to a victory in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, winning the final game with a base hit in extra innings. The stress ate a hole in his stomach. Weeks later, a Mariners team doctor told him he couldn't play on Opening Day. Ichiro refused to listen, his teammate Sweeney says. Before the team ultimately forced him to sit, the doctor tried to explain that a bleeding ulcer was a serious condition that could actually kill him.

Ichiro listened, unmoved.

"I'll take my chances," he said.

Ichiro signing a one-year deal with the Mariners may, in the end, be the worst thing for him. KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/GETTY IMAGES

DAY 2: FEB. 5, 2018

The next morning at 11:46, Ichiro moves quickly through the Hotel Okura lobby. A hood covers his head. This 35-story waterfront tower is where he always stays, an understated gold and black lacquer palace that looks designed by the prop department from "You Only Live Twice." His green Mercedes G-Class SUV is parked directly in front of the hotel and he climbs inside. The ballpark he rents, literally an entire stadium, is over the mountains, and he takes a right onto Highway 2, then an exit onto Fusehatake. He uses his blinker to change lanes.

The temperature is 38 degrees and falling.

A waterfall in front of the hotel is frozen mid-cascade.

On the drive toward the stadium, it begins to flurry.

At the field, he changes into shorts and steps out onto the field. A hard wind blows. Passing clouds drop the mercury even more. Ichiro isn't here in spite of the brutal cold but because of it. Japanese culture in general -- and Ichiro in particular -- remains influenced by remnants of bushido, the code of honor and ethics governing the samurai warrior class. Suffering reveals the way to greatness. When the nation opened up to the Western world in 1868, the language didn't even have a word to call games played for fun. Baseball got filtered through the prism of martial arts, and it remains a crucible rather than an escape. Japanese home run king Sadaharu Oh wrote in his memoir: "Baseball in America is a game that is born in spring and dies in autumn. In Japan it is bound to winter as the heart is to the body."

A group of people always works out with Ichiro. Today there are 11 of them, not one a serious athlete. One is the chef from last night. One is a white guy who runs like a wounded animal. All of them wear long pants, because only a maniac would dress for this weather in shorts. Every day, the workout is the same. They stretch and jog. Ichiro runs the bases and the rest follow him around the path. He takes 50 soft-toss swings, hitting the ball into a net, then he stretches again and steps into the batting cage.

Five people stand around the outfield with yellow crates and gloves.

Outside the stadium, two fans wait by the road with a gift of chocolate candy. They bring him this every year. A woman named Minako traveled here from Tokyo to find a crack in the bleacher walls wide enough to see through. She, too, makes this pilgrimage once a winter. As she stands on her toes and trains her binoculars on Ichiro, she wonders aloud whether this might be the end. Ichiro doesn't believe so. Last year, he came within one hit of setting the single-season record as a pinch hitter. The year before, he hit .291 playing in 143 games. His friend and former Orix BP pitcher, Koji Okumura, says Ichiro's swing has changed over the years. He now opens his hips and shows his chest to the pitcher earlier. "His eyesight is deteriorating," Okumura says. "He's trying to adjust to survive. He knows his death as a baseball player is getting closer."

In the stadium, Ichiro cracks line drives around the field. The wind whips around the bleachers, … [more]
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april 2018 by tomshen
This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's April 2 issue, The Dominant 20. Subscribe! Day 1: Feb. 4, 2018 via Pocket
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march 2018 by driptray
If we didn’t have sports, we wouldn’t have as many great stories like this one.
from twitter
march 2018 by unclespeedo
Endearing exploration of the routines of Ichiro. If you build your existence around one thing, this is what it looks like. ⚾️
march 2018 by thingles
This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's April 2 issue, The Dominant 20. Subscribe! Day 1: Feb. 4, 2018 "There is timing in the whole life of the warrior, in…
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march 2018 by nerd_uprising
This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's April 2 issue, The Dominant 20. Subscribe! Day 1: Feb. 4, 2018 "There is timing in the whole life of the warrior, in…
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march 2018 by theluther
Ichiro Suzuki's return to the Seattle Mariners won't resolve his internal battle
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Ichiro's return to Seattle won't resolve the battle raging within him via Instapaper http://ift.tt/2I8LPnG
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march 2018 by craniac
This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's April 2 issue, The Dominant 20. Subscribe! Day 1: Feb. 4, 2018 "There is timing in the whole life of the warrior, in…
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march 2018 by yudha87
Saved Wright Thompson on Ichiro for a quiet time because I knew it was gonna be good. It did not disappoint.
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march 2018 by joshcvt
Ichiro Suzuki
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march 2018 by sandykoe
RT : Ichiro's return to Seattle won't resolve the battle raging within him
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This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's April 2 issue, The Dominant 20. Subscribe! Day 1: Feb. 4, 2018 "There is timing in the whole life of the warrior, in…
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This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's April 2 issue, The Dominant 20. Subscribe! Day 1: Feb. 4, 2018 "There is timing in the whole life of the warrior, in…
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Ichiro's return to Seattle won't resolve the battle raging within him https://t.co/8qtJ7mabqr

— Greg (@modern_ema) March 8, 2018
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march 2018 by greihing
RT @justagwailo: Ichiro's return to Seattle won't resolve the battle raging within him
march 2018 by sillygwailo
This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's April 2 issue, The Dominant 20. Subscribe! Day 1: Feb. 4, 2018
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march 2018 by mud
RT : Baseball star Suzuki Ichirō " is haunted by the life he can't escape." Well worth a read.
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march 2018 by burritojustice
This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's April 2 issue, The Dominant 20. Subscribe! Day 1: Feb. 4, 2018 "There is timing in the whole life of the warrior, in…
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march 2018 by jamies
from Daring Fireball

Fantastic piece by Wright Thompson on 44-year-old Ichiro Suzuki:

The first time he went on the disabled list as a major leaguer was because of a bleeding stomach ulcer. That year, he’d led Japan to a victory in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, winning the final game with a base hit in extra innings. The stress ate a hole in his stomach. Weeks later, a Mariners team doctor told him he couldn’t play on Opening Day. Ichiro refused to listen, his teammate Sweeney says. Before the team ultimately forced him to sit, the doctor tried to explain that a bleeding ulcer was a serious condition that could actually kill him.

Ichiro listened, unmoved.

“I’ll take my chances,” he said.

The best hitter I’ve ever seen is Barry Bonds. But Ichiro is up there, and remains simply sublime. I’ve never seen anyone play baseball like Ichiro plays baseball.

 ★ 
ifttt  daringfireball 
march 2018 by josephschmitt
Fantastic piece by Wright Thompson on 44-year-old Ichiro Suzuki:

The first time he went on the disabled list as a major leaguer was because of a bleeding stomach ulcer. That year, he’d led Japan to a victory in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, winning the final game with a base hit in extra innings. The stress ate a hole in his stomach. Weeks later, a Mariners team doctor told him he couldn’t play on Opening Day. Ichiro refused to listen, his teammate Sweeney says. Before the team ultimately forced him to sit, the doctor tried to explain that a bleeding ulcer was a serious condition that could actually kill him.

Ichiro listened, unmoved.

“I’ll take my chances,” he said.

The best hitter I’ve ever seen is Barry Bonds. But Ichiro is up there, and remains simply sublime. I’ve never seen anyone play baseball like Ichiro plays baseball.

 ★ 
via:daringfireball 
march 2018 by rufous
This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's April 2 issue, The Dominant 20. Subscribe! Day 1: Feb. 4, 2018 via Pocket
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march 2018 by drewcaldwell