Growing up, I had the opportunity to watch the Mariners play just a handful of times. If my mom managed to drag me to more than ten games in my childhood, it didn’t stick in my memory. I routinely brought books to the park and fought with my sister over cracker jacks and which color hydro was likely to win each race on the DiamondVision screen.
In my teen years, I continued to distance myself from baseball. I couldn’t tell you that a game lasts nine innings, what responsibilities an umpire carries, or even that the point of baseball is to score runs. I knew only two things: the Mariners sucked, and they had Ichiro Suzuki.
Now, those two things weren’t related in my head. I knew that Ichiro was the star of the team, their only decent player, and the main reason that Mariners fans were, well, Mariners fans.
I didn’t know about his ten consecutive Gold Gloves and All-Star appearances, his 262-hit record, or his influence in bridging the worlds of American and Japanese baseball. I was aware of the hype without comprehending his legacy.
Yesterday, that changed.
When I first saw the barrage of “ICHIRO TO THE YANKEES!!!11!” tweets flooding my phone, I nearly laughed. Surely that was a joke. Surely even the Mariners, trying so very hard to sink even lower in the AL West standings, knew that some players in their franchise were off-limits.
Within minutes, however, confirmation of the trade was received, and I collapsed on the stairs of my house and cried. While my reaction may have stemmed from pure shock—had the Mariners traded Felix Hernandez, I don’t think I could’ve been more stunned—there is a part of me that remains sentimental about all that Ichiro symbolizes to this city and this team.
Of course, my practical side has since kicked in, the part of me that acknowledges the upside of this trade. We will never see the Ken Griffey Jr. situation repeated with Ichiro. During Mariners-Yankees home games, Ichiro will never be booed as ferociously as A-Rod. We will not have to agonize, as Jay Buhner did, about the front office blocking the development of younger players and foolishly trying to wring every hit out of Ichiro before his retirement.
Although I am excited about the new possibilities opening up for Seattle, Ichiro’s presence will be dearly missed at Safeco Field. It might never cease to be strange watching him take the field with the Yankees, clean shaven, wearing Dave Winfield’s #31 instead of his own #51. And while I wish him well in New York as he hunts down the elusive championship ring, I look forward to the day when he dons a Mariners cap for his induction to the Hall of Fame.
Best of luck, Ichiro. Thank you for all you’ve done to inspire and fuel this franchise, and for ending your career in Seattle as graciously as you began it.