I got the news while in my car driving down to Seattle late yesterday afternoon. Japanese baseball icon Ichiro Suzuki who played for the Seattle Mariners had been traded. To the Yankees. Really? Those were the very two teams that I was headed off to watch that evening, the opening game for the New York team’s three-day visit to the Emerald City, the only appearance they’d make here this season. And I had a ticket to go. The question was, which uniform would Ichiro be wearing that night? The blue, green and gray of the home team, or the famous pin-stripes of the boys from the Big Apple?
Whichever it would be, one thing was for certain–this was to be a historic game in Mariner and maybe baseball history. While the trade would be considered good for the struggling Mariner’s that have been saddled with Ichiro’s hefty salary, the fans would surely miss this big hitter who had become so beloved in this Northwest city. And Ichiro, while moving to a team where he might still have a shot at the World Series, undoubtedly had to be a bit sad about switching allegiances even though he’d be joining, as my friend Gil quickly pointed out, seven other former Mariner players who are now on the Yankee roster.
I was having a hard time visualizing Ichiro in a Yankee uniform. Would he become–#31–just another number in the team roster? And what about all those great Mariners’ television commercials showing the slugger had a sense of humor.
Even though I’ve been a life-long Yankee fan, thanks to my Uncle Joe, I haven’t followed the team that closely in recent years, except when they visit Seattle or play in the World Series. Aside from A-Rod and Jeter, I’d have a hard time giving you the names of many, if any, of the other current players. My memories of the team came when the likes of Mantle, Maris, Richardson, Boyer and Berra were in the line-up. But now I’d have Ichiro. That’s a hard one to forget.
Now I’d have the memory of getting to see either Ichiro’s last game as a Mariner or his debut as a Yankee. What was going to be just my one game a season outing, had taken on greater significance. I was glad I had brought along my trusty point-and-shoot camera (my pro camera wouldn’t be allowed in the park). Maybe I’d get a few shots for the scrapbook. I had photographed him during a spring training game in Phoenix. Little did I know then that it would be his last there.
At the ballpark,both Mariner and Yankee fans of whom there seemed to be an equal number, were talking about the trade. There was a certain suspense in the early evening air as everyone awaited to learn for which of the two teams Ichiro would be playing. The answer came when the announcer read the evening’s line-up for the visiting Yankees. “Ichiro Suzuki, in left field,” boomed the voice. He would be a Yankee starting tonight.
Then, in the third inning, he stepped up to the plate. The crowd clapped and cheered, rising to its feet to salute a superstar player and bid him farewell. In return, Ichiro stepped away from the batter’s box, took off his helmet and bowed, twice, to the fans. It was a special moment when fans and player showed together to express the mutual respect both held for one another and the tradition of the game. And I was lucky enough to be there.
So long #51. Welcome to the Yankees!