Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, March 21, 2019, 9:57 a.m.
Baseball began while I was asleep. The first two games were in Tokyo.
Had the Boston Red Sox been there, I would have gotten up at 5:30 the last two days. Instead, the Mariners played the Athletics and beat them twice. Everyone else begins next week, but for now, as soon as the Mariners land at Sea-Tac (Seattle-Tacoma, which I know is the airport because I’ve flown there), the best record in baseball will reside in Seattle.
I wouldn’t plan on being in the World Series just yet.
It was all worth it, I suppose, just as it was worth it for the local college basketball team to travel to, of all places, Seattle, to play last night in something called the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Presbyterian won its first-ever postseason basketball game in Division I against Seattle University, Elgin Baylor’s alma mater.
On Wednesday, I got up when I got up and saw the last three innings of Seattle’s 9-8 victory. On Thursday, I went to sleep with the TV on and programmed to tune to ESPN at 5:30. This, of course, meant that, for a time, I was half-asleep but aware the game was going on. What little I perceived was clouded by the fanciful. The game was half real and half dream. For instance, I don’t think Ken Griffey Jr. really homered for the Mariners.
What did happen – and this game ended up going 12 innings, so I saw more of it in my right mind – was the end of Ichiro Suzuki’s brilliant career in both America and Japan.
First thought: This is stupid. Why start baseball in Japan? Why do these two teams get to start early? Why do 28 have to start late?
Second thought: Ichiro is going to retire in his native Japan? Cool.
I saw him play, live, that is, only once. Years ago, I took my nephew on a trip to Los Angeles because that’s where he wanted to go. We went to Disneyland, Universal Studios and Knotts Berry Farm for him. We went to see the Mariners play the Angels for me.
Two things I remember. One is the vantage point of Vince and me sitting in the upper deck down the left-field line. The second is a brilliant throw by Ichiro from right field to the plate. I don’t even remember which team won. I became fixated with watching Ichiro’s fundamental soundness in every aspect of the game.
When Ichiro left Japan to play for the Mariners, I was briefly annoyed that he had “ICHIRO” on his back above the numbers instead of “SUZUKI.” In time, I came to realize that he was one of those talented people who becomes defined by a single name. Elvis. Beethoven. Picasso. Gandhi. Ichiro. Besides, it’s hard for American fans to pronounce Japanese names. For instance, Boston fans seldom referred to Daisuke Matsuzaka. He was “Dice-K.” The Red Sox don’t even have names on their home jerseys.
Ichiro was underappreciated, partly because his American prime was in far Seattle and partly because he was stereotyped as this inscrutable Wizard of the Orient and people never really got to know him. He was just a ballplayer.
One of the best.
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