When I was 9, someone gave me this magazine:
Inside was this:
That was my exposure to Seattle, to the Mariners, to Ichiro, to Japanese baseball: three pages, nine pictures, and hundreds of foreign characters that I could sometimes read but barely understand. For four more years after that, I didn’t know what Pike’s Place Market was, and I doubt I could have named another player in Seattle, but I could have told you that Ichiro Suzuki uses Mizuno gloves.
You know the rest of this story.
From 2006 to yesterday, the Mariners were bad. Felix Hernandez was good. J.J. Putz was good, and had a nifty name. Ichiro made goofy comments to the press. Most everyone else was terrible.
There were bobble head nights and beanie nights and ohjeezhowdothesepeoplewatchthesegames nights and ENOUGWITHTHEWAVEALREADY nights.
And once, three years into my booing of Adrian Beltre because ewewewdodgergetitoff and falling in love with Felix, the baseball player from the magazine gathering dust in the nether regions of my bookshelf gave me the best memory of live baseball I have. I don’t live and die with the Mariners. Or at least, I don’t dedicate blogs to them. But that night, for a little while, they might as well have been the Giants. For a little while, as I-CHI-RO chants were echoing up and down the stairs and continuing out into the streets, if someone had come up to me and said “Let’s make a Mariners blog and call it Suzuki Woulda Had It,” I might have said “yes.” Wouldn’t that have been awkward? So I don’t die with the Mariners, but I live with them, sometimes.
My mom knows who Ichiro Suzuki is, and that’s a short list of men playing a boy’s game. Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Barry Bonds…Ichiro Suzuki. She doesn’t remember that Robinson was a Dodger and she has no opinion on Bonds, but she was sad today that she won’t see Ichiro when she goes to a game in September. A game that will be her first since the single one she went to in Candlestick park.
And when I was in Okinawa, speaking terrible Japanese in front of a bunch of kids who became my best friends for a week and a half, the inevitable reaction to “I live in Seattle” was “Like Ichiro?”
He’s baseball to her and American baseball to them and there’s not much more you can be to someone, in relation to sports.
It’s been a couple of years now. A couple of years of curses screamed from the bleachers by the drunk boys down the row.
What the f— have you f— done for me f— lately? Me, who’s been wearing your jersey for a decade. Me, who stood in line for your autograph. Me, who harbored hopes for glory after you crossed the sea.
I’m not “me”. He’s not my player, my team, my franchise. I won’t buy his jersey, too many others to buy first. I might not even see him play again. He’s just the guy from a children’s magazine. At least the pages of that magazine have been dusted off and I picked it up from the shelf above my desk to write this post.
But I’m here, in Seattle, when I wasn’t in San Francisco to watch Bonds or J.T. Snow or now Aubrey Huff, fade. It’s angry and sad and bittersweet–all the things it should be–and every at-bat, no matter what the numbers on the scoreboard indicated, I can’t help but expect something good to happen.
The only bobble-head I have is Ichiro’s. It’s sitting on my desk next to a set of mini sushi erasers and a paper sailboat with a Marriage of Figaro program propped up behind it. The smile is wrong and I’m not sure about the eyes, but it’s got the not-quite-beard and it couldn’t possibly be mistaken for anyone else. He’s a Mariner. He’s wearing 51. Just like in that article, which I can finally read, and understand.
You know nothing, fans. That’s what the Baseball Gods decreed today.
But I’ll miss him, I know that. It’s about the only conclusion I’ve come to. I can’t even seem to figure out whether to write in past or present tense.