By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Seattle Mariners honored Ichiro Suzuki by inducting him into the Mariners Hall of Fame last weekend. The Japanese-born baseball icon who’s 5’11 and 175 pounds was just the 10th member of the team’s Hall of Fame and the only Asian.
The last weekend of August, the team held a celebration for Ichiro during the four-game home series with the Cleveland Guardians. The Mariners won three of the four games. The team’s great performance this year evokes the last time the Mariners were in the playoffs, in 2001, when Ichiro was a rookie for the team.
Ichiro played for the Mariners from 2001 to 2012 before being traded to the New York Yankees. Ichiro then signed a contract with the Miami Marlins and played for them for two years before returning to the Mariners in 2018. Suzuki played with the Mariners before retiring with the team during a game in Japan in 2019 at the beginning of the season. He was then given he role as “special assistant to the chairman” for the Mariners.
Among the accolades during his career— Ichiro won the AL MVP and the Rookie of the Year in 2001, was an All-Star 10 times, and set a record for hits in a major league season with 262.
Cleveland Guardians left fielder Steven Kwan idolized Ichiro Suzuki since he was a kid growing up in Northern California. In homage to his hero, his first at-bat on Friday night, he twirled his bat in the batter’s box and the left-handed Kwan held his bat in the air perpendicular to the ground with his right hand eyeing the pitcher. He then gave a subtle tug of the right short sleeve as Suzuki did in every at-bat.
The undersized Asian American is considered one of the best rookies in Major League Baseball and if not for Julio Rodriguez, could be the Rookie of the Year. Kwan’s homage to his hero did not stop on Friday night as he got a hit and dove into the stands with reckless abandon to catch a foul ball off the bat of Cal Raleigh to keep the Guardians in the game.
“I really admire how humble and how simple he was,” the rookie said of Suzuki. “He was obviously one of the biggest superstars in Japan and he came here and did the same thing, but he never let it get too big,” Kwan said. “He took everything with great humor, real humility. That was something I really admired.”
“[Ichiro] wasn’t hitting the big home runs, he wasn’t doing the big macho things, but he was getting the job done,” Kwan said to reporters. “They rolled him out every day and he succeeded. He was a superstar. That was really big for my confidence growing up.”
Kwan recalls watching Japanese television highlights of Ichiro with his grandmother as a child. Even when Ichiro had a bad day, Japanese highlights would show his play.
Ichiro’s weekend included a fireworks night on Friday night with music curated by Ichiro.
Saturday night was the big night in which a ceremony was held prior to the game that officially inducted Suzuki into the Mariners Hall of Fame. The ceremony included Ichiro’s wife Yumiko Fukushima, Ken Griffey, Jr., Edgar Martinez, and many more Mariners already in the prestigious club. A light-hearted moment of the ceremony included a congratulations from Ichiro’s two dogs on the big screen. Known for speaking through an interpreter throughout the years as a player, Ichiro spoke to the 45,000-plus sold out crowd at T-Mobile Park in English.
“What’s up, Seattle?!” Ichrio shouted to the crowd to start off his speech, also given entirely in English. Many fans wore Ichiro shirts or jerseys in honor of the certified baseball rock star.
“Even though I retired as an active player, baseball and Seattle have never left my heart,” said Suzuki. To this day, Suzuki still dresses in his Mariners uniform and the now-retired number 51. He regularly practices with the team and acts as a mentor for younger players despite the fact he pitches to hitters during batting practice, catches fly balls, and swings the bat himself.
In fact, Suzuki wore his full uniform the night before to catch the ceremonial first pitch to surprise a fan.
“Baseball will forever be my soul, and my mission is to keep helping both players and fans appreciate this special game,” said Ichiro in his speech.
In addition to the ceremony on Saturday, the following night was a special Ichiro Bobblehead day, which brought along another sellout crowd for a memorable weekend.
Despite being in the same ballpark as his boyhood hero, Kwan did not want to take away from his moment to introduce himself to Ichiro. However, he still had the opportunity to get an autographed jersey from Suzuki. According to Kwan, the jersey was immediately given to his parents, who traveled to Seattle for the series, for safekeeping. He told reporters that he would have it framed immediately and considered it “my prized possession.”
Jason can be reached at email@example.com.