Tonight, in the 9th inning of the Mariners' game against Oakland, Ichiro Suzuki hit an RBI single to become Seattle's all-time hit leader, surpassing Edgar Martinez. While the particular hit itself was far from a thing of beauty, and maybe even should have been ruled a fielder's choice, the accomplishment is very, very real.
Ichiro is the best pure hitter the game has seen since Rod Carew. He has done things in his ten years in the majors that have been accomplished by very few, or none at all. Even from his first season, when he won both the Rookie of the Year and the MVP, he showed us all what a special player that he is.
But while Ichiro may have made it look easy from the very beginning, that didn't mean it was easy. In a recent interview with Greg Johns from MLB.com, Ichiro explained some of the extreme pressure that he was under as the big leagues' first Japanese position player.
We all remember the hordes of journalists swarming around Ichiro in his first season. Japanese media outlets, to this day, still have reporters on the "Ichiro beat" and many of the Mariners' games are broadcast live in Japan. Even his agent, Tony Attanasio, has stated that if you want to mail something to the great man in Japan, you only need to write "ICHIRO" on the envelope and it will find him.
Ichiro is 37 this season. He says that he wants to keep playing well into his 40s. As it stands, his durability (only one DL stint in his career), regimen (he is a devotee of calisthenics before games) and skills that show no sign of eroding (10 straight 200-hit seasons and counting) make it seem like an easy goal to reach. He has 2,248 hits with the Mariners, and wants to go for 3,000. At his current pace, he should reach that mark around June of 2014.
But there's more than that. Before Ichiro gets to hit number 3,000 he would need to get to 2,979 first. And while that might seem like a random number, it is not without purpose. Because when he gets his 2,979th hit in the big leagues, sometime in June 2014 (we hope), that, combined with the 1,278 hits he got in Japan, will give him 4,257 for his professional career, breaking Pete Rose's record. Then, Ichiro will officially become what those of us who have watched him for the past ten seasons knew he always was.
The Hit King.