Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ichiro Suzuki's strange day ends as a Yankee

Imagine waking up in the morning, getting ready to go to work at the same place you've been for more than 11 years. You're an established, senior member of your firm, known all around the business world for what you've accomplished through hard work, longevity and an unorthodox approach.

Your company, once successful, has fallen on lean times, pushing you to do the unthinkable: look for a new job at a bigger, glitzier Fortune 500 firm. Negotiations move quickly, you get the offer and you take the job. And your first assignment representing your new company is to attend a business meeting trying to win a new client in a conference room in the same building where you've always worked, competing for new business -- against your old firm. 

That's not too much different than the experience of Ichiro Suzuki, the longtime fixture of the Seattle Mariners who on Monday was traded to the New York Yankees -- who just happened to be in town, playing the Mariners at Safeco Field later that night.

He had to turn in a strange direction, weirdly walking away from the familiar Mariners clubhouse, toward a new beginning in a different room, the gray "NEW YORK" uniform hanging in an empty locker, with the unfamiliar No. 31 on the back.

And then, once the game began, honoring the crowd that showed up to honor him by bowing in reverence, then promptly, in his first at-bat wearing the suit of the Evil Empire, lashing a single to center field. 

Life goes on. 

"When I imagined taking off a Mariner uniform, I was overcome with sadness," Ichiro said through his translator at a press conference before the game to announce the trade, which Ichiro had requested. "It has made this a very difficult decision to make."

He has played in 10 All-Star Games and has won 10 Gold Gloves in the Mariners outfield, but at 38 clearly is not the same player we are accustomed to seeing. His .261 batting average is a far cry from his career .322, light years from his .372, which won him the AL batting crown in when he led the AL in batting in 2004, and the .350 he batted in his rookie season as a 27-year-old in 2001, after a successful career in his native Japan.

“When I spent time during the All-Star break to think,” Ichiro said, “I realized that this team has many players in the early 20s. And I began to think, I should not be on this team next year, when I thought about the future of the team. And I also started to think about the desire to be an an atmosphere that I could have a different kind of stimulation than I have now. If that were the case, it would be the best decision for both parties involved, that I would leave the team as soon as possible. I have made this decision."

Ichiro then allowed himself to get excited by the prospects of going to the Yankees, who just happen to have the best record in baseball.

"I'm going from having the most losses to a team having the most wins," he said. "So it's been hard to contain my excitement in that regard."

"Ichiro is a rock star," said new teammate Alex Rodriguez, who would know. "New York is going to fall in love with him."

Especially now that he has a new pinstriped suit in his wardrobe.

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