He knew it was coming. During a spring when he was hitting just .064 with 10 strikeouts, Ichiro Suzuki knew that these two games against the Oakland A’s would most likely be his last two games as a professional baseball player.
The inevitable became a reality on March 21 as Ichiro exited the field for the final time in the eighth inning of a game in which his team, the Seattle Mariners, would top the Oakland A’s 5-4 in 12 innings.
However, if he had to retire from a game he clearly loved, Ichiro could not have chosen a better way to say goodbye. When Major League Baseball announced that the Seattle Mariners would open the 2019 season against the A’s, the speculation began that the games might be the last two of Ichiro’s illustrious career. In the end, despite a desire to continue playing the game, Ichiro realized this was time.
It was up to Mariners manager Scott Servais to determine the exact moment for Ichiro to say goodbye. That moment occurred as Seattle went to the field to start the bottom of the 8thinning. Servais called the rest of his team off the field, leaving the stage open for Ichiro to have one of the greatest walk-offs a player could ever have.
Speaking through an interpreter after the game, Ichiro remarked, “For me, it doesn’t get better than tonight. Nothing can top what happened tonight for me.”
The only thing that would have made the game better would have been if Ichiro would have gotten a hit. Instead, he finished 0-4 despite a crowd that was willing him to get a hit every time he went to the plate. But any hits would have been inconsequential to a career that included 4,367 hits across two leagues. Ichiro leaves the game with the most hits of any active Major League player (3,089). Ichiro will most certainly be a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection when he becomes eligible in 2025.
“It’s tough when you feel something and you’re happy and you always look back and say that was some happy moments,” said Ichiro. “But tonight, it doesn’t get better than this. There’s no more happiness than this here tonight.”
While acknowledging that he does not know what comes after baseball, Ichiro said he would like to “share what he’s learned with kids or Major League players. If I can be of any help, that’s what I’d like to do.”
Having Ichiro continue to give back to a game he clearly loves would seem to be a gift for all of us.