Tag Archives: baseball

The cool of summer

Storm front is moving in now, the outskirts of a typhoon in Kyushu.  The rapid temperature drop is appreciated, but the wind let’s me know we won’t be dry for long.  I’m on my way to a baseball game anyway, I haven’t hardly had a chance to go all season.  Baseball is dharma, like running or raves.  There is a balance in it you strive for, and a simplicity that loosens your heart. 

My team is the Yakult Swallows, because I lived in Shibuya for eight years, their simple, open air stadium a five minute bike ride from my apartment.  In the States this would be a AAA minor league stadium, but it doesn’t matter.  I’d rather have it that way because it keeps the focus on the game, on the fans.  With their traditional band-led cheers, to the ritualistic raising of umbrellas for every run, it’s honest and open, something rare in the deferring Japanese society.

Baseball isn’t religion, but it can be some kind of salvation.

The gauntlet is thrown (crushing my foot in the process)

I started a post in late July last year, right about the time the police tape was being drawn over the door of another Mariners’ baseball season. The homicide had been committed months prior (the perpetrator of course being Bill Bavasi), but everyone in the neighborhood knew since the 2005 postseason that the victim was bled to death from a thousand bad signings. It’s just that the smell of rotting sluggers gets particularly unbearable in mid-summer’s heat.

The title of the post was “The increasing lack of baseball relevancy”, and it ended something like this:

That’s it, I’ve had enough. From now on, I’m going to focus on more useful pursuits– as soon as the World Series is over, I’m not going to follow this anymore until next season.

The takeaway here is the sad truth of my baseball addiction. In elementary school I collected nearly the entire 1986 Topps series (collecting far more copies of Jose Guzman’s scruffy mug than any boy should ever see), fixating on my hero, Charlie Hustle, Mr. Pete Rose. However, after Rose was banned from the sport, I didn’t have much to do with baseball, other than an unhealthy obsession with Robin Ventura Donruss prints.

Many years later, I went to college, and still didn’t really care, but dragged around a 1976 Catfish Hunter Wilson glove for the occasional game of catch with Big Dog. Then I moved to Seattle.

Long story short, Kazuhiro Sasaki came to town and kicked ass. I got to see some free games and marvel at Safeco Field. Then Ichiro came to town and kicked so much ass Chuck Norris began to grow concerned about copyright infringement. So I came to Tokyo, became a Yakult Swallows outfield junkie, and cleaned the clock of my ESPN-devouring master in games attended for two consecutive seasons.

But I wasn’t the cleanup hitter for Mark McGuire, or on the chain smoker-ridden UVa club baseball roster.

So this year I’m torn between being more concerned that the Yakult pitching squad has actually gotten WORSE, or the fact that Mariners are prime for another dismal season and exit, stage right for Ichiro come July. Like the Mariners, my season looks to be about over before it’s even begun. Brandon has season tickets at five dollars a piece (compared to my occasional twelve). Even if I had season tickets, I’d probably lose the game attendance challenge since the number of days I leave the office before nine-thirty is about twenty five a year.

Yeah, it’s going to take some sort of sexy bitch owner cardboard strip tease to save this season.

The summer I was glad to be wrong

It’s true; the hubbub is warranted. Ichiro has proven Paul Molitor and myself wrong and done well in doing it his way. Don’t be fooled by the paucity of my Mariners posts, I’ve actually been intently watching the multi-hit wonder Ichiro since mid-August (and afraid to say anything for fear of jinxing it), scrupulously analyzing and computing any number of scenarios into my head, factoring in a vast number of statistics (I even finally learned what OBP and OPS mean).

This year was different. Unlike summers past where Ichiro faded and the Mariners fooled us Seattlites into one more foolish daydream of ALCS games at Safeco, the world has been turned on its head (well, of course not the almighty senior commentators at ESPN, who have seen this like everything else in clairvoyance from Michael Jordan’s third return to OJ’s acquittal) [Ditch the chip on your shoulder, Gammons! He’s good dammit!].

“They have five days to get the magic back — two more against the Ichiro Suzuki Dancers, and then three against the Angels with all the chips in the middle of the table.” — Ray Ratto, speaking of the A’s end of the season against the Mariners.

Yes, the Mariners pitching took the season off, half due to injury and half to age (be it mental or physical), which left the offense in the dubious position of saving the team (which has really almost never happened for lack of playmakers and sluggers). And after all but a few promising prospects had melted or been traded away, we were left with the insanely great, methodical hitting Buddha, Ichiro.

You probably won’t believe me when I say that my earlier prognosis was actually drawing greatly from the need to express disappointment with every member of the team (I didn’t _want_ to be so hard on the guy), because of course we all know that an annual thirty five stolen bases and two hundred hits are a crying shame to the Bud Selig tomfoolery that is the institution of baseball. But yes, Ichiro gave me something I have been complaining about lacking to my mother of late, he gave me a hero again. Someone to look up to, someone to emulate. Someone who was so much better than me but enough the same that I could see that internal conflict behind his eyes.

I’ve burned every frame of that striking, imposing setup into the back of my mind.

Two hundred and sixty two hits.

A league-topping .372, confusion and befuddlement to virtually every pitcher, mystery, prowess, amazement, and five more hits than anyone EVER made in the professional sport over the course of a season. And yes, even the great Ted Williams could feel the wind changing, blowing ever so slightly from the northwest, or was it the far east?

“In the first inning when I ran down the line, I was really dizzy and didn’t know if I could even run straight. To me, it felt like having four beers, for me. The next time it was three beers, the next time it was two beers. It didn’t go to zero beers. Maybe the last time was one beer.” — Ichiro, after being hit in the head by a pitch

So Ichiro, I thank you. I thank you for the hopes and the dreams you’ve rekindled in my own expatriate soul. I thank you for the weekly lunch visits to the Ichiro-loving curry house with satellite, so I could watch you live in good company. I thank you for doing exactly what you strive so unflaggingly for, being the very best hitter in baseball.

I thank you with the scores of headline-bearing newspapers I scrambled to find the day after, I thank you with my thirty one days’ of Ichiro goatee growing, to celebrate those thirty one in August that were fifty seven. I thank you with my beaming proclamation that we’ll have a drink downtown together one day. I thank you with the way in which I visualize how productive I will be this week at work, going 4-for-5 today and bug fixing .428 for the week.

So thanks Ichiro, thanks so much.

“I don’t feel like I’m in a zone. I’m going out and doing the same things I always do… I’ve kind of run out of things to say. You could say that I’m happier than happy.”

Happier than happy.