I remember bits of pieces of 2000 and 2001. I was a pretty avid baseball fan. I played ball in high school. I also was your typical teenager trying to find his way in life. Something big changed in 2000 though. It was just over a year after Ken Griffey Jr was traded away to the Cincinnati Reds, the man I choose to love the Mariners for. No matter, they still had Alex “a-rod” Rodriguez. That winter of 2000, a-rod decided to get become the highest paid player in baseball for Texas.
For two straight seasons, my favorite players for my favorite teams went to other teams. This was hard, but I stuck with the Mariners none the less. They had an aging Edgar Martinez, Jamie Moyer, and Mike Cameron. That winter also changed a little bit, because we signed this guy named Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro was a completely unknown talent at that point, in Japan he was a dominant player, but there was more than a fair share of “experts” who were certain that Japanese players would struggle to hit Major League pitching.
The 2001 season started and Ichiro became Ichiro! (exclamation point added on purpose). He hit the ball, he ran really fast, he played awesome defense, and all the sudden we had a guy who was one of the best players in the league again after just losing three future Hall of Famers in three consecutive seasons (Randy Johnson was traded the year before Griffey). Ichiro! quickly became a fascination, and the Mariners were winning to boot. They were winning a lot. It got to June before they lost a season series to any team in baseball. They would end up winning 116 games with tied them for a Major League Baseball record for most wins in a regular season.
They simply dominated, Ichiro! would go on to win the Most Valuable Player award. I remember being so excited for the playoffs that year. I skipped school to watch a day game, and cleared my work schedule for night games. I remember making a wager with my Geometry teacher for the first round. The Mariners played the White Sox. We bet a 20 oz bottle of soda on the winner. He was the White Sox fan, so he picked the White Sox. But we sweetened the deal for two soda’s if either team swept the series (won 3 without losing). The Mariners swept the White Sox.
Unfortunately the Mariners ran into the Yankees who had a bit more pitching and just a better roster built for the playoffs. Their top end talent was better, even though our depth was awesome. Despite that, Ichiro! was a phenomenon. For the next decade it was fun to watch Mariners games, even in bad seasons, to see him stride out to right field, to do his signature stretches, and watch him during every wild on-deck circle warm up routine.
The last couple years as a Mariners fan has been trying to say the least. They’re terrible. Ichiro! is aging and has slowly shown signs of being human (his first ten seasons he had over 200 hits in every season, first player to do that). However, thankfully last year my wife and I got to go to Safeco Field and watch the Mariners at home and it marked the second time I saw Ichiro! play in person. Two very great experiences, I’ll cherish them forever.
Now Ichiro! plays for the Yankees (sigh) after a trade that he requested so he could finish out this contract with a chance to win. I don’t blame him. I’m not mad. He’s a competitor. The Mariners are terrible. They’ve been terrible for the last three seasons. I am sad to see him go, but more sad that the Mariners couldn’t be more competitive with him here. He always performed and was the classic athlete that you could pencil in his production before the season started and watch him exceed expectations for a decade. He’s 39 years-old now, its time he get a chance to win a championship.
I’ll remember the good memories of watching Ichiro! play for the Mariners, I’ll remember his feats, and remember how much he meant to me as a ball player. It would have been nice for him to finish his career in Seattle, but not under these circumstances. He deserves better and he got it.
It was really hard to read twitter, get the text messages and Facebook posts. I didn’t really know how to correctly to respond to it all. Ichiro! being a Japanese player playing for a Japanese owned American team seemed like a done deal. But now he’s gone. I hope he helps the Yankees. Despite my less than positive feelings towards than the Yankees, I want Ichiro! to win.
Ichiro! is everything that is right in baseball, had the Mariners been able to compete these last few years, I have no doubt that Ichiro! would have been right in there to the end. Thank you Ichiro! for being the ballplayer that was exciting to watch. I’ll never forget 2001, and that’s largely because of your arrival.