I got sucked in this evening to an ESPN article by writer Wright Thompson that my buddy posted on Facebook. I was the lone like his post share – significant only in that it seems the luster for Ichiro’s once meaningful career has worn a bit. Today’s news broke throughout the sports world of Ichiro’s removal from the Seattle Mariner’s active roster and into a ‘front office’ role of some kind.
Jerry Dipoto was able to spin the move as a positive for everyone, citing Ichiro’s “value” in the clubhouse as a teammate. His job will supposedly morph over time as needed, but for now includes him traveling and spending time with the team in what looks like a coaching/advisory role. I’m not sure that anyone actually buys this so-called value – stories around baseball would have us believe different.
My personal read on things is that Ichiro’s value was born of, and only of, his ability to hit. Ichiro’s team-first approach can be summed up in a Google or YouTube search of “Ichiro diving catch.” Sure, a person can make an argument for the fact that Ichiro’s lack of aggressive play and self-preservation kept him on the field, benefitting his teams. I would counter with a highlight reel of Ken Griffey, Jr which to my mine and earlier generations represented everything we needed to know about The Kid and the way the game is supposed to be played.
Tonight, I am not here to discuss Ichiro’s lack of diving or compare him to other Seattle Mariner greats; a class in which he no doubt belongs. Rather the oddities that shape Ichiro’s routines as outlined by Thompson and my belief today’s young player might benefit from a similar approach.
I’m saddened hearing quotes from Ichiro when asked of his post-baseball plans, “I think I’ll just die,” he told the Miami Herald last year. Another just awful thought is his winter-time departure from his Seattle home to Kobe, Japan, where he leaves behind a wife for focus and winter workouts. Yet another terribly difficult testimony is his estranged relationship with his father.
I’m reminded of the old tchotchke slogan that read, “Baseball is Life, the rest is just details.” While I proudly wore a shirt bearing this line in high school, my belief in it wore out like the rags that t-shirt became. And while I’m saddened by the 44 year old’s life outlook and future professional prospects, I’m envious on behalf of my young self and every aspiring American player who lack the type of obsession necessary to become great at baseball or any other worthy pursuit.
My opinion is that Ichiro Suzuki should transition to put more focus on life after sport. His inevitable post-baseball existence, for all that he finds it is short on, needs to be filled with meaningful endeavors; perhaps a clothing venture or other business that interests him, definitely make up on some of the lost time with his wife, and before life grabs us all by the throat, figure out the deal with Dad. Conversely, I think Ichiro’s regimen is a tremendous example for young men, except the Dad thing – stay close to Dad.
The idea of an individual spending time incessantly focused on mastering something is somewhat of a coaches dream. God knows there are many distractions for young people, young ball players – but if we could get them to go a bit crazy in their work for the sake of work, I think it would result in something better. While hard work is hardly a guarantee for success in baseball, a lack of it almost certainly ensures short comings.
I believe the shortage remains in our willingness to settle for goodness, rather than greatness. Ichiro was into greatness and perhaps the reason he, rather than most of us, is going into the Hall. Too often in my anecdotal experience is that young people want to talk about playing in the bigs, but want absolutely zero to do with the potentially shallow obsessive existence that is required to actually do it. A step beyond that is yet another level of insanity and involves winters in Kobe.