Tag Archives: Ichiro

Ichiro laces them up again in Kobe

Unlike Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Ichiro Suzuki is still retired, but on Sunday, he laced up his spikes at Hotto Motto Field Kobe to take the field with the grass-roots amateur team he founded, Kobe Chiben.

At the same park where he became “ICHIRO” in his third season with the Pacific League’s Orix BlueWave, Suzuki’s team of former players from high school powerhouse Chiben Wakayama High School took on a team of teachers from the school and beat them 14-0.

Kyodo News’ story in English is HERE.

Here’s a link to the Kyodo News Japanese story — as published by Nikkei Shimbun.

Suzuki, managed, pitched and batted ninth. At the plate he had three hits, including a triple and home run. With a no-windup motion, the former high school pitcher struck out 16 without issuing a walk, while allowing six hits in a 131-pitch outing.

The Japanese expression for this level of baseball, is “kusa yakyu” — literally “baseball in the weeds.” It’s a staple of the peoples’ game in Japan, where company employees and students spend weekends and evenings year round playing baseball nation wide.

In his Japanese language retirement press conference in the early hours of March 22 in Tokyo, hinted that if he did return to the game it would be through involvement with the amateur side of the game.

Ichiro from start to finish, part 4

Ichiro Suzuki announced his retirement at a press conference after midnight in Tokyo on Friday, March 22. I have translated the entire press conference from start to finish to give you a sense of how it went down. I hope you enjoy. I have included the original Japanese text. The questions have been mercilessly shortened, however.

He made two curtain calls, once after he left the game at the start of the bottom of the eighth inning, and again after the Mariners’ extra-inning win over the Athletics. What follows is the Japanese and English text of his retirement press conference early on the morning of March 22 in Tokyo.

Ichiro Suzuki tips his cap to fans at Tokyo Dome as he leaves his last big league game. on March 21 ,2019. Photo by Seito Takamizawa

――(長々と説明後に)1年目のゲームから今日を思い出しましたか?

「長い質問に対して大変失礼なんですが、ないですね」

–(After an extremely long buildup) do you have any memories from the games in your first year to today?

“I’m sorry to be rude in answer to such a long question, but no.”

――プロ野球選手になるという夢を叶えて成功してきて、今何を得たと思うか?

「成功かどうかってよく分からないですよね。じゃあどこからが成功で、そうじゃないのかというのは、全く僕には判断できない。成功という言葉がだから僕は嫌いなんですけど……メジャーリーグに挑戦する、どの世界でもそうですね、新しい世界に挑戦するということは大変な勇気だと思うんですけど、でもここはあえて成功と表現しますけど、成功すると思うからやってみたい、それができないと思うから行かないという判断基準では後悔を生むだろうなと思います。やりたいならやってみればいい。できると思うから挑戦するのではなくて、やりたいと思えば挑戦すればいい。そのときにどんな結果が出ようとも後悔はないと思うんです。じゃあ自分なりの成功を勝ち取ったときに、達成感があるのかといったらそれも僕には疑問なので。基本的にはやりたいと思ったことに向かっていきたいですよね。

 で、何を得たか……まぁ、こんなものかなあという感覚ですかねぇ。それは200本もっと打ちたかったし、できると思ったし、1年目にチームは116勝して、その次の2年間も93勝して、勝つのってそんなに難しいことじゃないなってその3年は思っていたんですけど、大変なことです。勝利するのは。この感覚を得たことは大きいかもしれないですね」

–You succeeded in realizing your dream of becoming a pro baseball player. What have you gained?

“I don’t really know if I succeeded or not. Where do you measure it from? Because if you can’t do that, then I’m unable to judge. I dislike that word, “success.” Trying the major leagues, or any other world, I think requires great courage because you are taking on the challenge of a world that’s new for you. In that sense I would use the word “success,” but that’s because you go because you think you’ll succeed. If you don’t go because you think you can’t be successful, I think that will become a source of regret. Basically, I try things because I want to do them. But what have I gained? I guess that’s how I feel about it. I wanted to get about 200 hits, and I thought I could. My first year our team won 116 games, 93 the next two. So in those three years I didn’t think winning was such a difficult thing. It is in fact extremely hard. That realization might be the big thing I took away.”

――毎年神戸に自主トレに行っている。ユニホームを脱ぐことで神戸に何か恩返ししたい思いは?

「神戸は特別な街です、僕にとって。恩返しかー……、恩返しって何することなんですかね。僕は選手として続けることでしかそれができないと考えていたこともあって、できるだけ長く現役を続けたいと思っていたこともあるんですね。神戸に……恩返し……、じゃあ、あの税金を少しでも払えるように頑張ります」

–You do your offseason training in Kobe. Now that you’ve retired do you have some emotion to want to repay a debt of gratitude to the city?

“Kobe’s streets are special to me. As for repaying, I wonder what that might be. From my standpoint as a player, I thought of nothing but continuing my career and playing as long as I could. Kobe? Repay a debt of gratitude? I suppose I can do my best to pay them some taxes.”

――日米で活躍する選手は甲子園で活躍、プロで活躍、そしてメジャーに挑戦という流れがある。もっとこんな制度ならメジャーに挑戦しやすかったとか、こういうことあればいいなという提言は?

「制度に関しては僕は詳しくないんですけども、でも日本で基礎を作る、自分が将来、MLBでプレーする……。MLBで活躍するために礎を作るという考え方であれば、できるだけ早くというのは分かりますけど、日本の野球で鍛えられることってたくさんあるんですよね。だから制度だけに目を向けるのはフェアではないと思いますけどね」

――日本の野球で鍛えられたことは?

「基本的な基礎の動きって、おそらくメジャーリーグの選手より日本だったら中学生レベルの方がうまい可能性だってありますよ。それはチームとしての連係もあるじゃないですか。そんなの言わなくたってできますからね、日本の野球では。でも、こちらではなかなかそこは……。個人としてのポテンシャル、運動能力は高いですけど、そこにはかなり苦しみましたよ。苦しんで、諦めましたよ」

–(Japanese) players who go to the majors now follow a path from playing  (in the high school tournaments) at Koshien Stadium, and from there to Japanese pro ball and then the majors. Based on your own experiences if there was a different a system, that would make it easier for Japanese to go to the majors, what would that be? This is hypothetical, but could there be some kind of developmental system or is playing in Nippon Professional Baseball still the best way?

“I really don’t know in much detail about systems as such. My baseball foundations were laid in Japan for my future of playing in MLB. But in the case of building the necessary foundation in order to play in MLB, I know that the sooner you go the better, but Japanese baseball still has much to teach, so it’s really not fair to look just at the different systems.”

–What did you Japanese baseball teach you?

“One could argue that from the standpoint of fundamentals, how to play the game, Japanese junior high school-level players may be better than major leaguers because of the focus on teamwork through things like relay plays. We (Japanese) can execute those things without being told. That’s Japanese baseball, but over there, well… the players used to be athletic and have high individual potential, and I think that is still the case, but (my hope that teammates would become better fundamentally) it was so frustrating. Eventually, it became so frustrating I just put it out of my mind.”

――エンゼルスの大谷翔平選手との対戦を楽しみにしていたけど、叶わなかった。イチローさん本人は対戦したかったか?

「先ほどもお伝えしましたが、世界一の選手にならないといけない選手ですよ。そう考えてます。翔平との対戦、残念ですけど、できれば僕がピッチャーで翔平バッターがやりたかったんですよ。そこは誤解なきようにお願いします」

――大谷選手は今後どのような選手になっていくと思いますか?

「なっていくかどうか? そこは占い師に聞いてもらわないとわからないけどねぇ。まぁでも、投げることも、打つこともやるのであれば、僕は1シーズンごとに、1シーズンはピッチャー、次のシーズンは打者として、それでサイ・ヤング(賞)とホームラン王を取ったら……だってそんなこと考えることすらできないですよ。翔平はその想像をさせるじゃないですか、人に。この時点でもう明らかに人とは違う選手であると思うんですけど。その二刀流は面白いなと思うんですよね。(記者に向かって)納得いっていない感じの表情ですけど。ピッチャーとして20勝するシーズンがあって、その翌年には50本打ってMVP獲ったら、これ化け物ですよね。でも、それが想像できなくないですからね。そんな風に思っています」

–We were looking forward to facing the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani, but it didn’t come to pass. Did you want to face him?

“I think I answered that already, but my thinking is he is a guy who has to be No. 1 in the world. It’s unfortunate about a matchup against each other. I wanted to pitch against Shohei if that had been possible. Please don’t misunderstand that. ”

–What kind of player do you think Shohei Ohtani will become?

“What will he be? I think that’s something only a fortune teller can explain. If one was capable of pitching and hitting, what I would like to do is pitch one season and bat the next. In that way one could win the Cy Young Award one year and win the home run title the next. That’s because it’s something I can’t even consider. After all, Shohei is the kind of player who invites that kind of impression. He’s already proved he’s a player who is different from others. I think that playing two ways is pretty cool. You don’t look like that answer is going to satisfy you.”

“OK. Let’s say he wins 20 games in one year as a pitcher, and hits 50 home runs the next and is MVP. That’s a monster, but it’s not something you can exclude as a possibility. That’s kind of how I look at him.”

――現役野球選手じゃない自分は嫌だとインタビューで言っていた。

「僕は嫌だって言わないと思うけどね。僕、野球選手じゃない僕を想像するの嫌だとたぶん言っていないと思いますよ」

――改めて野球選手ではない自分を想像してどうか?

「いやだから、違う野球選手に多分なってますよ。あれ? この話さっきしましたよね。お腹減ってきて集中力が切れてきちゃって、さっき何話したのかもちょっと記憶に……。草野球の話しましたよね? そっちでいずれ……それは楽しくやっていると思うんですけど。そうするときっと草野球を極めたいと思うんでしょうね。真剣に草野球をやるという野球選手になるんじゃないですか、結局。聞いてます?」

「お腹減ってきたもうー。結構やっていないですか、これ。今時間どれくらい? 1時間? 20分? あらー。今日はとことんお付き合いしようかなと思ったんですけどね。お腹減ってきちゃった」

–It is said you agreed with the sentiment that you would hate the idea of yourself as a retired player.

“I don’t think I would say, ‘I hate that.’ I don’t believe I said I dislike the idea of myself as someone who isn’t a player.”

–So can you imagine yourself as something other than a baseball player?

“Since you don’t like that (answer), do you mean seeing myself playing a different kind of baseball? I already talked about that. I’m kind of hungry and my concentration is fading. My recollection of what I said before is…Did I talk about “kusayakyu” (backlot baseball)? In any case, I think that would be fun. I would be the kind of player who masters kusayakyu. In that case, I’d be really serious at it. Are you listening?”
“I am so hungry. Is this not enough? How long have we been going at this? An hour? 1 hour, 20 minutes? Oh my. I was kind of hoping to be out with people until late, and now I’m starving.”

――プロ野球人生振り返って、誇れることは?

「これ、先ほどお話しましたよね。小林君もちょっと集中力切れてるんじゃないの? 完全にその話したよね。ほらそれで1問減ってしまうんだから」

–When you look back on your career, what are you proud of (from Mr. Kobayashi of the Daily Sports)?

“Hold on. I think I answered that already. Mr. Kobayashi is your concentration also wavering? I absolutely definitely answered that, so that’s one less question for me.”

――イチロー選手の小学生時代の卒業文集に「僕の夢は一流の野球選手になることです」と書いていたが、その当時の自分にどんな言葉をかけたいですか?

「お前、契約金1億(円)ももらえないよって。ですね。いやー夢は大きくと言いますけどね、なかなか難しいですよ。ドラ1の1億って掲げていましたけど、全然、遠く及ばなかったですから。いやー、ある意味では挫折ですよね、それは」

「こんな終わり方でいいのかな? なんかきゅっとしたいよね、最後は」

–When you were in elementary school, you wrote in your graduation essay ‘My dream is to be a top-level baseball player.’ What would you like to say to that boy that was you?

“Listen kid. You’re not going to get a 100 million yen ($900,000) signing bonus. Yes, that’s right. No, we say to have big dreams, but they are also hard. I also wrote that I wanted to be a No. 1 draft pick with a bonus of 100 million, but that proved beyond my grasp. So in a sense, is that not frustration, too? Is that a good place to end this? I really want to polish this off properly, so OK one last question.”

――前のマリナーズ時代、何度か「自分は孤独を感じながらプレーしている」と話していた。ヤンキース、マーリンズとプレーする役割が変わってきて、去年ああいう状態があって今年引退。その孤独感はずっと感じてプレーしていたのか。それとも前の孤独感とは違うものがあったのか。

「現在それ(孤独感)全くないです。今日の段階で、それは全くないです。それとは少し違うかもしれないですけど、アメリカに来て、メジャーリーグに来て……外国人になったこと。アメリカでは僕は外国人ですから。このことは……外国人になったことで、人の心を慮ったり、人の痛みを想像したり、今までなかった自分が現れたんですよね。この体験というのは、本を読んだり、情報を取ることはできたとしても、体験しないと自分の中からは生まれないので。孤独を感じて苦しんだことは多々ありました。ありましたけど、その体験は未来の自分にとって大きな支えになるんだろうと、今は思います。だから、辛いこと、しんどいことから逃げたいと思うのは当然のことなんですけど、でもエネルギーのある元気なときにそれに立ち向かっていく、そのことはすごく人として重要なことなのではないかなと感じています」

「締まったね、最後。いやー長い時間ありがとうございました。眠いでしょ、皆さんも。ねぇ。じゃあ、そろそろ帰りますか、ね」

–During your first time with the Mariners, you said a number of times that ‘I feel lonely when I play.’ But with the Yankees and Marlins, your role changed. Then you had that situation last year, and now you’ve retired. Did you continue to play with that feeling of loneliness? Or did the nature of the loneliness you felt change?

“I don’t feel that anymore. At this stage, not at all. This might be a little different (from what you meant), but when I arrived in America, when I came to the majors, I became a foreigner, because I was in America and that made me a foreigner there. Through this thing of becoming a foreigner I began to consider other people, began to imagine things like the pain of others.”

Thinking man’s game

When Ichiro Suzuki debuted in the majors in 2001, he was a joy to watch, a speedy highly-skilled, athletic antithesis to the performance-enhancing drug revolution, a player who bucked the trend and succeeded despite an aversion to honing his home-run hitting skill.

At his retirement press conference in the early morning hours of March 22 in Tokyo, Suzuki lamented American Baseball’s newest thing, an obsession with launch angle that has fueled home run and strikeout rates.

“The baseball played in America in 2019 has completely changed since I arrived in 2001,” he said. “It’s moving toward a game where you can now get by without using your head. I wonder how this might change. I don’t see this trend stopping over the next five years, or 10 years or for the forseeable future. Fundamentals mean nothing. Perhaps saying that might cause trouble. (Saying) that looks like it definitely will be a problem.”

“On a fundamental level, baseball is a game that requires thinking. That it’s losing that makes me sick. America is baseball’s birthplace, and I believer that a lot of people have a sense of urgency over what the game is becoming. So I think there is no need for Japan’s game to follow America’s. The Japanese game should be a thinking, interesting brand of ball. As long as this trend in America does not stop, I hope Japanese ball doesn’t change and that we remember to cherish it.”

This is hardly an unusual opinion from someone steeped in the Japanese game and the thread of Japan’s cultural narcicism that claims Japanese have unique attributes. Ask any Japanese baseball person about what defines major league baseball, they will say, “speed and power,” and if they don’t I’ll give you a dollar.

Japanese baseball, they’ll tell you, is “komakai” – detailed. Saying major leaguers have “power and speed” is at best a left-handed compliment, like saying black players are “natural athletes.” The implication is that American players don’t have to hone their craft the way less genetically blessed Japanese players do. In other words, our players work to get good, theirs are just bigger.

It perfectly suits an ideology that dictates every amateur game be treated as a war in itself. No amount of practice is too much, no concern for your best pitcher’s arm too great to prevent him from pitching when not doing so would increase the chances of losing.

While Ichiro is considered a paragon of Japan’s small game of “kowazara” or subtle techniques, and is a master of fundamentals, those things – as much as yakyu apologists would have you believe – are not the same as “thinking baseball.”

Indeed, Japanese amateur baseball activists will tell you that “thinking” is an endangerd concept in the Japanese game, because children are being taught not to think but to execute orders in order to minimize the risk of errors that could cost games.

Ryunosuke Seto, the chief executive of the Sakai Big Boys sports club in Osaka, said Japanese baseball programs kids to play according to fixed routines, instead of teaching them to adapt.

“Kids need learn to build their own software, but if you just give them the answers, they don’t learn to solve problems. When they get older, they can’t figure things out,” Seno said.

While Suzuki is an advocate of cultivating various different skills that Japanese doctrine says can be used to exploit opponents’ weaknesses, and being precise in execution, he was never one to play by the unwritten rules. While his slash-hitting and speed game is not far from Japan’s ideal, he succeeded with an unorthodox batting style that flouted convention.

As a left-handed hitter with speed, he would have been expected to not try and drive the ball, but to hit grounders to the left side of the infield and hope to beat them out, because that is what fast left-handed hitters are trained to do in Japan.

Smart, quick-thinking players like Ichiro are a huge advantage on the field. Equating Japanese baseball with quick thinking because of Ichiro, however, would be a mistake.

The one and only Ichiro

Ichiro Suzuki is many things to many people. He’s funny, gregarious, warm-hearted, cool and focused. So much seems to depend on what he wants and where he wants to go.

I caught up with his agent, John Boggs at the winter meetings in Las Vegas, and he relayed some of his insight into the Japanese icon.

One of my Ichiro stories was during the 2009 World Baseball Classic. In the first two WBCs, Ichiro failed to do anything in the opening round in Japan. I was first up with a question at the press conference when Japan arrived in San Diego for the quarterfinal round.

Q: “Do you understand what might be the problem so far? For example is it your timing?

Ichiro: “I have no way of knowing that. Next question.”

Two or three questions later, a guy who writes frequently about Suzuki, asked the same question in Japanese and Suzuki launched into a three minute dissertation on the steps he’d taken to iron out his approach to the plate.

I told that story to Boggs, and said, “You know what it’s like if he doesn’t anticipate what someone is saying or it’s not on his radar?”

Boggs nodded and said, “He doesn’t hear you, and he doesn’t acknowledge you.”

My story on Kyodo News is HERE.