You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.
ON THIS DATE IN 2001, Ichiro made his Major League Baseball debut.
Ichiro Suzuki was the first position player from Japan to play in the major leagues. In five years, he will become the first Japanese player ever to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
That first spring, I asked Ichiro, through an interpreter, what he liked most about America.
I asked him what he liked least.
“Hamburgers!” he said. “So many hamburgers!”
“Everything breaks in America,” he said. “You see that chair you are sitting on? Watch out, it might collapse any second.”
Early that first spring, Ichiro hit a lot of soft ground balls and soft fly balls to the opposite field. Mariners manager Lou Piniella, always impatient, asked Ichiro whether he could do something other than weak contact to left field. Ichiro pointed to the right side and said, “I can hit it really hard over there, if you like.”
“Yes,” Piniella said, “Hit it really hard over there.”
Ichiro hit the ball hard, everywhere, that first season, batting .350, winning Rookie of the Year and MVP. Early that season, he hit a ball that was bouncing — and lined it up the middle for a single.
“Oh,” Mariners general manager Pat Gillick said, “he used to practice that all the time in Japan, hitting a pitch that bounced.”
Bobby Valentine, who managed 943 games in Japan, told me that Ichiro was a mathematical genius, saying, “I saw him get on an elevator of a 35-story hotel and add up all the even floor buttons in his head in a matter of seconds. So when you watch him run through the outfield with his head down and end up at the spot where the ball ends up, it’s his mathematical mind. He can see the angles of the field.”
Ichiro was meticulous about his batting practice, and his bats. He never threw his bat to the ground or shoved it in a bat rack. He carefully placed his bats where they needed to go.
“A good carpenter,” Ichiro said, “never throws around his best hammer. He treats it with care.”
Other baseball notes from April 2
In 1996, Cecil Fielder stole the first base of his career. It came in his 1,097th game. He was big and heavy and couldn’t run, but he had good hands and feet. I saw him dunk a basketball — easily.
In 2003, Todd Zeile hit a home run for his 10th different major league team, which was, at the time, a record. He also held the record for the most career homers (253) by any player whose last name starts with Z until Ryan Zimmerman passed him in 2018.
In 2002, Jon Rauch, 6-foot-11, made his debut, making him the tallest player in major league history. Six years later, he came on in relief of teammate Randy Johnson, who is 6-10.
In 2017, Madison Bumgarner became the first pitcher to hit two home runs on Opening Day. He refused to have the ball sent to the Hall of Fame “because we lost, and I’m a pitcher.”