Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Ichiro is my Hit King

Ichiro Suzuki is one of my heroes.

Growing up, I was bombarded with the stereotype of the weak, unathletic Asian. Popular culture said that I had to be good at math and science, but bad at sports because of my smaller body and bad eyesight. I played sports, but I never expected to be among the best. In high school, I played on the tennis team. Being a college town in California, there were quite a few other Asian kids on the team, and we did very well... but we weren't football or basketball players, so we weren't cool, and I didn't feel like an athlete.

When Hideo Nomo came over from Japan to play baseball in the Major Leagues, it was a big deal for me, especially because he pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team that I grew up with. It meant a lot to me to see a Japanese player holding his own against Major League teams because it challenged the narrative of the unathletic Asian. But there was still the nagging doubt that "he was only a pitcher" and a Japanese hitter would never be able to cut it here.

Enter Ichiro, the first hitter to cross the Pacific. He was a star in Japan, and like Nomo, he wanted to test himself against the best. He tested himself and he succeeded beyond imagination, becoming not just a star, but a superstar here. There was a period of time when he was frequently the lead story on Sportscenter. He broke records, stunned crowds, and inspired a nation.

Especially as we've learned about the fraudulent stats and the records that fell during the Steroids Era of baseball, Ichiro represents a purity and a beauty of the game. He never hit for great power; his game was founded on speed, hitting, hustle, and respect for the game. I once watched an interview where he talked about how he took care of his equipment, despite being a millionaire who could buy more gloves and cleats a hundred times over.

Today, Ichiro got 2 hits, moving his career hit total, combining those from Japan and the US, to 4,257. That's significant because it surpasses Pete Rose's career total, the Major League record. This doesn't mean that Ichiro has the record now. But his accomplishments are significant. They are significant to me, as a Japanese man. They are significant to the nation of Japan, proving that its stars can be your stars. It is significant to all of those nations and people who have been told that they can't. Growing up, I never would have believed that I would see someone who looked like me playing in, let alone dominating an American professional sport. Ichiro made me believe.