SEATTLE (September 15, 2019)—Ichiro Suzuki delivered one last time for the SeattleMariners fans. This time, it wasn’t a game-winning hit, a stolen base, or a wall-crashing catch. This time, Ichiro delivered a speech in English. And it was good.
As Ichiro approached the podium in front of the pitcher’s mound a few minutes before the Mariners played the Chicago White Sox, the crowd at T-Mobile Park erupted with applause and chants of “Ichiro! Ichiro!” The city was celebrating Ichiro’s legacy, something the local fans hadn’t been able to do because Ichiro famously retired after the Mariners’ second game this season in Tokyo.
Ichiro has given Mariners fans plenty to cheer about over his illustrious career. He was a huge part of the Mariners’ 116-win season in 2001, his first year in Seattle. He won both the Rookie of the Year award and the American League Most Valuable Player designation that year. He broke the single-season hit record, a record that had stood for 84 years, in 2004. He was also an excellent fielder with one of the most feared arms in the outfield. Watching him gun down a runner trying to go fromfirst to third was a thing of beauty. Ichiro retired with a stellar .311 batting average and is a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in five years. He has more hits than any professional baseball player when you total both his Japan and Major League hits.
Last night, Ichiro surprised Seattle fans by delivering a five-minute speech in English. The star rightfielder rarely spoke in English to the media during his career, preferring to use an interpreter, and fans were curious if he bothered to pick up the language while playing in the US. The answer is, yes, Ichiro speaks English.
His speaking voice sounded surprisingly deep and clear as he thanked the fans. He started out with, “I am so nervous,” collected himself, and said, “OK, let’s do it.” He first singled out Dee Gordon and Yusei Kikuchi, both of whom were very emotional when Ichiro retired in March. “Dee, Yusei, no crying tonight! This is a happy occasion.” He continued on a more serious note: “When I retired in Tokyo, I had an incomplete feeling because the great fans of Seattle could not be there.”
Ichiro prepared his speech like he prepared for his games—thoroughly. It was obvious that he had practiced and practiced and was actually nervous when it cametime to deliver it in front of his cheering fans. But he needn’t have been nervous, because T-Mobile Park was filled with love for him last night.
After his speech, Ichiro watched the game with his wife from the stands. It was odd to see the All Star watching, not playing. But it was a wonderful evening and a reminder of how sports can bring us together.