This Day In Sports: Ichiro’s emotional final bow back home

March 22, 2019, five years ago today: A dramatic final hurrah as Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki ends his baseball career in his home country of Japan. Ichiro had elected to play in the special season-opening two-game series in Tokyo—and then retire there. Ichiro had not appeared in a game since the previous May, when he stepped aside from playing to serve in a front-office role (special assistant to the chairman). But the Mariners allowed him to suit up and practice every day. Ichiro took batting practice and fielded hundreds of balls in the outfield. He had never officially retired, and he prepared for a moment like this.

In Tokyo there was, in effect, a six-day celebration of Ichiro’s career. It culminated with the second game of the series against the Oakland A’s. In the eighth inning of a 12-inning Seattle win, he took his spot in rightfield after going 0-for-4, but none of his M’s teammates followed him out onto the field. Then Ichiro was lifted from the game to a roar from 46,451 delirious fans. Ichiro hugged his Mariners teammates one by one as he left the field. “Nothing can top what happened to me tonight,” he said. The guy who once declared he wanted to play until age 50 still made it onto the field at age 45, becoming the second-oldest position player to start on Opening Day in MLB history.

So ended an unparalleled international career that stretched over nine years in the Japanese big leagues and 18 more in the U.S. It was in 2001 that Ichiro made his Seattle debut following seven full seasons and two partial seasons with the Oryx Blue Wave in Japan. His first game, just like his final game, was a 5-4 win over the A’s. Ichiro went on to lead the majors with 242 hits and 56 stolen bases in 2001. He was American League MVP and Rookie of the Year that season and claimed the AL batting title with a .350 average.

Other Ichiro career nuggets from Since both leagues officially adopted a 162-game schedule in 1962, Ichiro compiled the top two single-season hit totals (262 in 2004 and 242 in 2001), three of the top six and five of the top 18. He reached the 200-hit plateau 10 times, doing so in his first 10 seasons, when he averaged 224 per year. Ichiro went on a hit streak of 20 or more games seven times in his career. All this after not making his big league debut until the age of 27.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)

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