TOP OF THE THIRD: MARLINS 8 (1) – 1 PADRES
Ichiro Suzuki is up to bat, 2,974 career hits to his name, and somewhere over the night sky of America is the grumbling, cursing echo of Pete Rose, throwing household objects at the TV set, cancelling all newspaper subscriptions, wondering what went wrong with the baseball youth of today—What about me? Mr. 4,256? Anyone??
For anyone who hasn’t been following it, 42-year-old Ichiro has been fast approaching the benchmark of both 3,000 MLB hits, and the all-time “professional hits” record held by Pete Rose—with a surprise of a comeback season, batting .336 on a Miami ballclub winning more games than anyone would’ve thought.
4,257 career hits for Ichiro Suzuki (including Japan). 1 special swing. pic.twitter.com/ZqeUNHYtlA
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) June 15, 2016
He’s sitting on an overall total of 4,252 (prior to this game) as he comes up in the 3rd inning to bat—an absurdly impressive, sort of controversial total derived from the added numbers of nine-year stint with the Orix BlueWave. A career that began at age 18. In Japan. Far, far away, in the mesozoic, way-back year of 1992.
So as Ichiro steps into the box, a half-full crowd at Petco Park awaiting the sight of a legend, it’s with a sense that history itself is on the edge of its seat, watching a new chapter run through its final edits. Watching something that might not be watched for a long while after.
He goes through his pinwheel batting-stance setup, his legs set, arm going counterclockwise three times before sticking straight out toward the mound. Bat in hand, upright as a lightpost, and his other hand adjusting the jersey as he exhales, sets up and readies for the pitch.
A fastball from Rea, and Ichiro bends his body toward first-base, his legs sneak into two half-steps as he swings, the hands follow, and the bat flies through with a flick of the wrists, slapping the ball the opposite way. Onto the grass in left-field ahead of Melvin Upton, Jr.
— Wayne E. Yang (@wayneeyang) June 16, 2016
Another tip-toeing step toward history. And applause from the crowd, admiration from the opposing Padres, an appreciation for a swing and its production that wasn’t always the case.
Quoting from Wikipedia here:
Ichiro made his Pacific League (Japan) debut in 1992…but spent most of his first two seasons in the farm system because his then-manager refused to accept Ichiro’s unorthodox swing. The swing was nicknamed “pendulum” (振り子打法) because of the motion of his leg…and goes against conventional hitting theory. Even though he hit a home run off Hideo Nomo, Ichiro was sent back to the farm system on that very day.
In the Petco Park crowd, a cohort of Japanese fans keeps leading the cheers, with bilingual signs for Ichiro, and (I think) for Wei-Yin Chen, Marlins’ starter and Taiwanese national. They’ve got a set of cardboard numbers, arranged and added to with whatever hit totals Ichiro ends up with after tonight. One fan has a jersey for the old Ichiro, the Orix BlueWave Ichiro, an outfit of throwback nostalgia that’s got the TV camera crew fixated.
Martin Prado comes up for Miami next, with Ichiro on first and the ballpark attention on anything but the batter. Prado has got, now that I think of it, maybe the only museum-name surname in the league, unless there’s a John Louvre on some roster I’ve overlooked. The only Tates have long since retired, there’ve been no Orsays or Gettys—and, wait a second, this is weird.
Can this be right?
Credit to Baseball Reference for this one, the documentation of a “One Guggenheim,” manager of the Youngstown Puddlers, Class B team of the 1898 Interstate League. Talk about deep cuts. Not only the sole Guggenheim in baseball history, that I can find, but the guy’s first name is “One”??
With no other available info online, and just one season apparently under his belt, this might be Moonlight Graham revisited, the ghost mystery of a well-named baseball anomaly.
Anyway—back on the field. Rea throws to first, Ichiro dives back. His aging knees still intact, still nimble. He hops up, with the blurred outlined of an Arm & Hammer ad on the padding behind him, lined up as if the arm (and hammer) is gearing up for a hit in the face.
On the next pitch, Prado hits a soaring home run to left. Two runs come home, Marlins lead 3-1. Colin Rea kicks at the mound dirt. Not too great a rookie season.
Ichiro jogs around third, tags home, and the fanatics go wild. One of them goes really wild, catching the eye of the TV broadcasters. Or not wild exactly—familiar. Uncanny. Eerie. Is that… Ichiro’s twin?
“There’s Ichiro,” one of them says, “and…. Ichiro!” They start completely losing it, unbroken laughter on the TV mic as they and I can’t believe our eyes.
— #VoteMarlins (@Marlins) June 14, 2016
A fan, in the full black and orange Marlins away uniform, cap and jersey and batting gloves and everything. Not just dressing the part, looking the part, acting the part, mimicking each and every aspect of the real Ichiro—a live 3D replay of imitation.
He’s got a major leg up on the far weirder “Minivish,” a costumed impression of Yu Darvish that didn’t quite have the mannerisms down.
So this Ichiro 2.0 is up in the stands, matching each move Ichiro makes—and as his hero (obsession?) trots back to the dugout, the man follows jogging along the aisle, back to his seat, and sits down in quiet wait for the next appearance.
More on him later.
So the Marlins are up 3-1, and with the next seven batters all hell breaks loose for Colin Rea and the Padres.
Christian Yelich rockets a single up the middle. Justin Bour beats the shift with a single down the line to left. Mound meeting for Rea. The San Diego infield looking antsy. Dark clouds loom overhead in the distance, above the stadium lights.
JT Realmuto comes up after Rea resets, hitting a ball on the ground to Solarte at third. It’s in the glove, Solarte turns, throws to second. Adam Rosales dashes to the bag, reaches for it, the ball’s into his glove. And, then, the ball’s onto the dirt. A bobble. A boo-boo. A gaffe. And Realmuto’s on first, Bour on second, the Marlins are up 4-1 and Derek Dietrich strides up to the plate. Rea still on the mound.
Dietrich rips the first pitch up the middle. And I see the umpire throw his arms up into the air, like a Maurice Sendak wild thing letting the “wild rumpus” start, his legs leaping up above the infield grass. The ball shoots straight into his heel, he works a little tap-dance maneuver, then a ricochet off into the outfield.
Automatic single for Dietrich, and the bases loaded with Bour held from scoring.
Funky inning. Rosales drops a ball at 2B, after which Dietrich’s single strikes 2B umpire Cory Blaser. Bases loaded with one out in the 3rd.
— clarkspencer (@clarkspencer) June 14, 2016
And now, a rule read by the TV guys that I’d never heard. When the umpire’s inside the baselines, they say, it’s considered a dead ball. One base awarded. But if the umpire for some reason is beyond the basepaths, it’s a live ball.
Good to know. So the dead-ball call keeps Bour at third. Like a ground-rule single.
Adeiny Hechavarria comes up next, his surname a full semicircle stitched in the jersey back (and one-time teammate of the even longer Jarrod Saltalamacchia).
He drives a pitch deep to center—over the head of Jon Jay, playing way shallow, and it rolls to the wall. Three runs score, Hechavarria dashes into third base for an uncontested triple. And it’s 7-1 Marlins. Wow.
“Hechavarria is a homer and single away from the cycle.”
Y’know, I think it might be too early to start counting down for this one.
— Chris Towers (@CTowersCBS) June 14, 2016
The Japanese fan group rises again for pitcher Wei-Yin Chen at the bat, former Japanese-league player, a groundout back to the mound.
And now, those fans still on their feet, much of the stadium on its feet, we’ve got another installment of history. Twice in one inning.
The Marlins have batted around, and Ichiro comes back up to the plate. Another chance for a hit. Another chance to inch toward a disputed record. Pete Rose on rage alert.
#51 sets up again, his bat and arm in a rigid L as if setting up for an archery shot. On the second pitch, we’ve got number 4,524.
Vintage Ichiro. Soft ground-ball to short, Alexei Ramirez charges in, nabs it, twists and spins and whips it over to first. Late. The classic, unbeatable Ichiro dash down the line, a head-start out of the box—and he’s ten feet past first-base when the ball arrives, already jogging to a stop, safe with the lightning speed no other 42 year-old has had. The ball kicks away past Wil Myers and Hechavarria scores from third. 8-1 Marlins.
Brad Hand comes in from the bullpen, Rea to the dugout, and after the ad break he’s staring into the abyss of the sunflower-seed-covered, spit-drenched concrete floor of the dugout, his palm rubbing his clean-shaven face, wondering what went wrong.
And as Ichiro takes a lead off first, up in the crowd is a mirror. His doppelganger takes a lead. Crouching. Knees bent. Right foot taking two steps into the aisle.
Ichiro loosens and readjusts his batting gloves, the fan does the same. Ichiro fixes his turtleneck undershirt. The fan follows. Ichiro leads, exhales, shakes himself loose, stretches out, and in the stands is a mirror image, a top-notch copycat with everything on point. He eyes “second base,” considering a steal, which is his case is the concrete beneath the plastic cart of a hot-dog vendor, some two sections to his right.
“If he steals a base,” one of the TV guys asks, “does he run too? Does he slide at the end of the aisle?”
Does he do mock press conferences? Mock salary negotiations?
“Let’s say Ichiro runs the bases, pulls a hamstring—Does the guy gets pulled off on a stretcher, too?”
And finally, the line we’ve all been waiting for:
“Will the real Ichiro please stand up?”
Oddly enough, the guy is only the second best Marlins fan around, and I’m shocked that there’s another full-uniformed Marlins fan roaming around in the pop culture (for those that don’t know, the great Laurence Leavy—“Marlins Man”).
The inning ends with Miami up 8-1, seven runs scored, and two hits from Ichiro as he steps within a day of history. And his counterpart, fake-Ichiro, clapping to the crowd—a performance that’s now brought swarms of kids around him for pictures.
Can we make this a thing for every all-time great? A full concourse of Pete Roses, Derek Jeters, misshapen and haggard, the full jersey kit and mannerisms down pat. A living, breathing, half-pathetic 3D version of the Hall of Fame.
Old-timers, too. Where’s an overweight, middle-aged Honus Wagner when you need him—roaming the big-league concourses in 2016?