By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Welcome to another edition of The Layup Drill. In this month’s column, we take a look back at the Winter Olympics and a new Sounders player. But first, is the return of Ichiro!
Ichiro returns to Mariners
In somewhat of a surprise, the Seattle Mariners re-signed Ichiro Suzuki to the team. Ichiro will help out a much-maligned outfielding corps. When we last saw Ichiro at Safeco Field, it was last season when he was with the Miami Marlins. In what many thought would be his last at-bat in Seattle, he hit a home run. For most Mariners fans, we thought that was the end of the book on one of the greatest players to play in Seattle.
But, it looks like it was the end of a chapter, not the book. The Marlins released the 44-year-old this past offseason and Ichiro is still looking to play. Seattle has had injuries to its outfield and with need for some backup, Ichiro was on the Mariners’ radar once again. After a professional career in Japan and 11 years with the Mariners, Ichiro was traded from Seattle to the New York Yankees in 2012. He played for the Yankees for two years and then went to Miami, where he spent 2015-2017. With the Marlins, he collected his 3,000th hit in Major League Baseball.
The contract is just for the 2018 season, although there is speculation that if the Mariners’ outfielders get healthy, Ichiro may make an early exit. Of course, if he rekindles his magic with the Mariners, he might give fans one last season of memories.
Kim delivers gold for U.S., star of Olympics
The Winter Olympics took place last month in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Despite concerns over tensions with their neighbors from the north, the games served as a time in which North and South Korea put aside the politics to participate in the games together. The unification, if only for the Olympics, between the contingent of North Korean athletes and South Koreans showed the power of athletic sports.
As for the Americans, the star of the Olympics was Southern California teenager Chloe Kim. Despite being 17 years old, it seemed like the fans had been waiting for years to see her participate in the Olympics. Kim came as advertised, as she blew away her competition in the snowboard halfpipe. She became the youngest female to win an Olympic gold medal.
The win was all the more special because Kim’s parents are from South Korea. Television cameras caught Kim’s ever-vigilant father waiting for her at the bottom of the mountain, as he has done for all her competitions. Kim appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated after her victory. She will be on the Wheaties cereal box, which is usually dedicated to the best Olympic athlete for the United States. It’s clear that she was the darling of the 2018 Winter Games.
Kim was nervous for the competition, but noted some comfort food help. She tweeted that she had Churros before competing. Certainly, her time competing in the X Games and other competitions helped her on such a big stage. One can expect to see Kim in many more Olympic games before she retires. Kim’s success should bring her lucrative commercials and media opportunities.
Nathan Chen was another medal hopeful. However, his subpar performance in the team competition and then his errors during the short competition were signs that this wasn’t his time. Chen did earn a bronze medal in the figure skating team event. Also, earning bronze as part of the team were Mirai Nagasu, Maia Shibutani, and Alex Shibutani.
Chen placed 17th in the short program, which put him out of position for a gold medal when factoring in the long program. Fortunately for Chen, he was able to pull himself together for a memorable free skate performance, where he pulled off five quadruple jumps. He placed first in the program. Chen was able to surge back in the competition to finish in a respectable fifth in the men’s individual competition. The gold medal went to Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, who had flawless performances in the short program and free skate.
In women’s figure skating, Nagasu became the first American woman ever to land a triple axel in Olympic competition. She earned bronze in the team event and placed 10th in the individual competition. It was a great comeback for Nagasu, who was edged out of the 2014 Olympics after competing in Vancouver at the 2010 Olympics.
Alex and Maia Shibutani earned bronze medals in the team event and in the pairs event of ice dancing. The brother-sister duo are the second sibling duo to earn an Olympic medal and the first from the United States.
The Shibutanis also were the first duo of Asian descent to earn an ice dancing medal. Alex, 26, and Maia, 23, started skating together in 2004. It was their second Olympics, but for the “ShibSibs,” it was the first Olympic medals.
J.R. Celski and Aaron Tran represented the United States in short track speed skating. This was Tran’s first Olympics and he skated to a 10th-place finish in the 1,500 meter short-track speed skating event. The 21-year-old was happy with his performance, as it was his best showing on “a much bigger stage than usual.” In a down year for the short track speed skating team, the Federal Way native did his best in front of friends and family who traveled to watch his debut. Celski, a three-time Olympian from Federal Way and three-time medalist, did not fare well this year. The 27-year-old, whose mother is Filipino, did not advance to the final round of the three events.
Sounders sign Korean defender
The Seattle Sounders opened play in March and with the hopes of returning to the MLS Cup for the third year in a row, the team signed Korean defender Kim Kee-Hee. The team acquired Kim, who spent the last two seasons with a soccer team in Shanghai, China, last month.
Kim is a defensive specialist. He made 45 appearances with the Shanghai Shenhua in the Chinese Super League. The 28-year-old is originally from South Korea and has played for the South Korean national team.
He played with former Sounders forward Obafemi Martins in China and was informed about the great fans and atmosphere in Seattle.
“I played with Obafemi Martins in China and he put in a lot of good words for Seattle,” Kim told reporters during his initial meeting with Seattle media.
Kim did not play in the Sounders’ opening season debut, but you can expect him to compete for playing time.
Jason can be reached at email@example.com.