In my second trip to fabled Fenway Park this season, I had the supreme pleasure of standing in right field for a few innings and watching the master himself, Ichiro, judge fly balls, make a couple of sliding catches and keep himself stretched and amused in between pitches.
Craig Robinson of Flip Flop Fly Ball noted that one of life’s great joys is watching the man for an entire game. I didn’t study him for the full nine, but what I did see, I obviously enjoyed.
♦ ♦ ♦
This past Friday, I was lucky enough to have standing room tickets in the third base deck for a Red Sox-Mariners game, with Daisuke Matsuzaka facing off against Jason Vargas as the Sox continue their climb back to respectability (also known as the .500 mark). Daisuke started off slowly, thanks in no small part to a walk to third baseman Chone Figgins and a double by catcher Miguel Olivo.
But, poles, unusually tall patrons and a desire to walk around and take in more of the park took hold after about three innings, and the third-base spot was abandoned. After a beer and some french fries, I settled into a spot in the back of the grandstand, behind section 3, where I had a clear view of home plate, the pitcher and, for the purposes of our discussion, right field and Ichiro.
Ichiro has been one of my favorite players in baseball for some time, and I’ve enjoyed my chances to watch him in person, both in Boston and during Spring Training in Arizona. He plays with such unusual flair, practically running out of the left-side batter’s box as he hits. He patrols right field with authority, tracking down towering flies and sinking liners and gunning down runners with a cannon of a right arm. And he hits. Oh, how he hits.
In his time with the Orix Blue Wave, Ichiro picked up 1,459 base hits in seven full seasons (and a pot of coffee over two seasons out of high school). Since coming to the Mariners, he’s hit 2,283 more through Sunday, the most in team history, including an amazing 2004 where he broke George Sisler’s record 1920 record for hits in a season — his 262 topped Sisler’s 257. All told, Ichiro has 3,743 hits. If all his hits were eligible for the major league record book, he’d sit in fourth place all time — 112 ahead of Stan Musial and just 28 behind Hank Aaron.
And, as Robinson documented himself, Ichiro is also the owner of some unusual little customs in right field. I paid special attention to his little tweaks on my own. He stretches and touches his toes between pitches. He stretches his ankles and thighs. He spins his hips, cranes his neck, leans on his knees, and readies for the next pitch.
♦ ♦ ♦
In the game, Ichiro went 2-for-4 with two runs and a walk, helping Seattle to a 5-4 lead. But Mike Cameron had a chance to make some noise for the Sox in the eighth inning. Having hit two home runs that day and representing the tying run, Cameron sent a bloop into right-center. Center fielder Michael Saunders was running in and didn’t seem to have the legs to make it all the way there. Neither did the second baseman.
In came Ichiro, swooping in like an eagle to secure the prey of the fly ball. Right leg out, left leg tucked, he slid, made the grab and popped up as if he’d done it 1,000 times before. I have no doubt that he has.