Hats Off, Suzuki
Early this morning, at an exhibition game in Japan, Ichiro Suzuki officially retired. He leaves behind a legacy career that spanned 19 years in the major leagues and got to end it all exactly where he started, in his native Japan. He began his path to greatness in the year 1992 at age 18. In that time, a young Ichiro would set out to define himself as a standout player who would journey from the minors to majors, carving a unique path that would lead toward the Hall of Fame. First ballot. Quite possibly, unanimously.
I have been a Mariners fan since I was six, and attended many games in Seattle. If there is one thing about growing up as a refugee in the US, it’s that you find solidarity in other immigrant and refugee stories. Even though the context is shifted, the obstacles are the same. Our families repeatedly tell us: if you work hard and reach for your dreams, there is nothing you can’t achieve. Never mind that we have to navigate complex established systems while still proving we are worthy. This makes us gravitate to players like Ichiro, and feel inspired. After an illustrious career in Japan, Ichiro worked his way through the ranks and hurdles of the minors, blazing a trail in America as the first Japanese everyday position player in the majors.
Foreign born professional athletes typically work on a P-1 visa, and to qualify for permanent residence must be sponsored by their respective club in order the obtain an EB-1 or EB-2 green card. Each of these is based on whether the players can prove they have an ‘extraordinary ability’. This narrative sounds all-too-familiar. Immigrants having to prove they are exceptional in order to be allowed to live out their potential dreams while contributing to the American economy? Cue Immigrants (We Get The Job Done) off the Hamilton Mixtape:
In order to emerge from the shadows, Ichiro had to shine brighter than the rest. That commitment and dedication graduated into a discipline that reaped great rewards later in life. He became a 10-time All-Star, was a 2001 American League Rookie of the year, as well as an MVP. He shattered records, and was a ten-time Gold Glove Award winner in right field. This is all extremely rare. Asian players in the majors are a minority amongst the immigrant ballers. In fact, in 2018 there were more Venezuelan players in the league than there have been Japanese players in the majors, ever. This makes Ichiro’s success all the more compelling.
With the Mariners off to an excellent start in the preseason, there was no better goodbye for one of their most iconic players. From Kasugai, Japan, to Cooperstown in 2025, our hats off to you, Ichiro.
PS. Yes, crying is allowed (see below).