Saturday, August 28, 2010

Rice Balls, Ass Tattoos, and Elvis: Ichiro a Go-Go by Steve Mandich

Steve Mandrich hails from Seattle and found Zisk through our blog. He also just happens to be a slightly obsessive Ichiro fan. This is his first piece for Zisk. —SR

Ichiro Suzuki is my all-time favorite baseball player. Here’s why:

--The 36-year-old is currently in his tenth major-league season, all with my hometown Seattle Mariners.

--He’s the only player in baseball history to amass 200 hits in nine consecutive seasons. As of this writing, he’s on pace to reach 200 hits again in 2010, tying Pete Rose’s record of career 200-hit seasons. However, it took Rose 17 seasons to reach the mark, while Ichiro should do it in ten.

--Rob Dibble has Ichiro’s name tattooed on his ass. During Ichiro’s 2001 rookie campaign, a skeptical Dibble vowed on ESPN radio that if Ichiro won the batting title, he would get the butt tat and run naked through Times Square. Ichiro led the majors with a .350 average, so Nasty Boy Dibble ate crow on a cold, wet night that December. The cops wouldn’t let him run in the altogether, so he wore a Frederick’s of Hollywood thong.

--Ichiro is the first-ever Japanese position player to sign with a major league club. Besides his ’01 batting title, he also led the majors that year with 242 hits, 56 stolen bases, and 3,373,035 All-Star ballot votes, becoming the first rookie ever to lead all players in All-Star balloting. He won both the AL’s MVP and Rookie of the Year awards, joining Fred Lynn as the only player to do so in the same season.

--On Cleveland: “To tell the truth, I’m not excited to go to Cleveland. If I ever saw myself saying I’m excited going to Cleveland, I’d punch myself in the face.”

--Before coming to America, Ichiro played seven full seasons for Japan’s Orix Blue Wave. He won seven consecutive batting titles and seven consecutive Gold Gloves (or whatever they’re called there), and played in seven consecutive all-star games. He became the first player to reach 200 hits in Japan’s 130-game season, and his 210 hits in 1994 remain Japan’s single-season record. Ichiro amassed 1,278 hits and a .353 batting average in his Japanese career, and was nicknamed Elvis as the most-recognized person in the country.

--At Meiden High School, Ichiro was primarily used as a pitcher—he had a 93 mph fastball—though his career high school batting average was .505.

--Ichiro’s dad maintains a Nagoya museum dedicated to his son, containing nearly 3,000 artifacts. Besides Ichiro’s childhood baseball memorabilia are his dental retainer, Nintendo game cartridges, Transformer toys, a Go game, and a mannequin of a 12-year-old Ichiro sitting at his childhood desk.

--Ichiro’s 262 hits in 2004 is the all-time single-season record. George Sisler’s 257 hits in 1920 was the previous record, though it was set during a 154-game season. (It took Ichiro 160 game to surpass Sisler.)

--Before every game, Ichiro eats a rice ball.

--He led Team Japan to gold medals in both World Baseball Classic tournaments thus far, in 2006 and 2009. The stress of defending Japan’s WBC title in ’09 landed him on the DL for the first time in his career, due to a bleeding ulcer.

--Ichiro has played in ten All-Star Games in as many seasons, baseball’s longest current streak. He has started in nine of them, leading off a record nine times. (He’s also won a Gold Glove and hit at least .300 during each of those seasons.) He was named MVP of the 2007 game, hitting the only inside-the-park homer in All-Star history.

--On American hygiene: “Although it is a tradition to shake hands in America, people don’t wash their hands when they go to the bathroom.”

--Ikkyu is the name of Ichiro’s pet Shiba Inu, a Japanese breed of dog. Ichiro’s wife Yumiko and Ikkyu high-five each other whenever they see Ichiro get a hit on TV.

--Ichiro keeps his custom Mizuno bats in a humidor.

--Like Vida Blue and Chili Davis before him, only Ichiro’s first name appears on his uniform. In 1994, he was one of four Orix players named Suzuki, so his manager had him use just his first name, as a publicity stunt to promote the rising star. While "Ichiro" means "first son," he actually has an older brother.

--Like Randy Johnson, Bill Wilkinson, Steve Fireovid and Rey Quinones before him, Ichiro wears number 51 for the Mariners, as he did in Japan. Upon being issued the digits in Seattle, he promised to “work hard not to damage the reputation of the number." Presumably he was just referring to the Big Unit.

--There are a handful of songs about Ichiro, including tunes by surf-rock kings The Ventures, Terry “Talkin’ Baseball” Cashman, Japanese garage girls Supersnazz, and the mighty Baseball Project.

--"I very much like hip-hop and rap,” Ichiro says. His favorite song is “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang,” his favorite musical artist is Snoop Dogg, and one of his two favorite TV channels is BET. (The other is Animal Planet.)

--Ichiro’s favorite movies include Mr. 3000, Love Actually, Miss Congeniality, The Full Monty, and Cool Runnings. His favorite TV shows are Lost, Prison Break, and Dragon Ball Z.

--In 2006, Ichiro began hosting the TV show Ichiro-Mondow: Two Chairs, in which he interviewed Japanese athletes, actors, models, scientists, lawyers, and “Peter,” a popular Japanese drag queen, all on a barren set (save for the chairs).
--He played himself on the January 4, 2006 episode of Furuhata Ninzaburo, a police detective drama series, in which he kills a guy who blackmailed his brother.

--Assuming Ichiro remains healthy and averages at least 200 hits a year through 2014—not too far-fetched—the 40-year-old will have amassed 3,000 hits in his major league career. Combined with his Japanese totals, he would have over 4,300 international career hits, surpassing Julio Franco's record of 4,229. Rose’s 4,255 hits are probably out of reach, but becoming the Hall of Fame’s first Asian member should be a cinch.

Domo arigato, Mr. Suzuki.

Steve Mandich runs the Super Ichiro Crazy! fan page.

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