The critics listed his unorthodox swing, his unique approach to hitting and his lack of American baseball experience as issues that were supposed to work against him.
But from that season on, he's been proving those critics wrong, winning the American League MVP and the AL Rookie of they Year, winning two batting titles, making 10 all-star teams, earning 10 gold gloves, three sliver sluggers and breaking the single season hit record.
So when Ichiro notched the 2,500th hit of his career in Tuesday's win over Arizona, the now 38-year-old took a rare moment of reflection when it came to all that he has accomplished and the latest milestone which signals longevity and consistency.
"I have broken many records in the last 12 years," he said through translator Antony Suzuki. "You look at when, on my first day I got here in 2001, if I said my goal was to get 2,500 hits then people would say I was crazy. But now you look at it, looking back, things do come true."
All those accomplishments haven't lessened his motivation.
"That's how I see myself now and I still look back to how I felt my first day here because there is a passion inside that is all the same," he said.
What stokes that fire? Well, it's a combination of things.
"There are two things that come to mind," he said. "The passion and love for the game that kept me motivated up to this day. There was also the criticism that came along with that, that keeps burning in my heart and brought me to this day."
But his days going forward are a little less certain.
He was given the day off on Monday and responded with four hits on Tuesday. A few more days off could be in his future.
"It's just something that he's got to understand that it's not a bad thing to get a day off now and again," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "I know what he's conditioned for and that he wants to play every single day. Ultimately, what we're looking for is to get the most out of everybody over 162 games. If I think a day off is good for him, then that's what we're going to do."
Ichiro isn't above getting a day off under the proper circumstances.
"It kind of depends on how you are given that day off," he said. "(Monday) was tough for me and very regretting because you want to go out there and perform. But then I understand the skipper's situation and understanding as well. So it kind of depends from here on how you are being given a day off because regretting is something I have in my heart, but at the same time it gives me motivation too."
With another hit on Wednesday, Ichiro is now at 2,504 hits in his career. The next milestone will be 3,000. He would need a minimum of three seasons to accomplish the feat. With each year, it will get that much more difficult. But he embraces that challenge.
"I like to put pressure on," Ichiro said. "Because with that, you overcome that and you achieve something bigger."
Smoak sits with sore knee
Predictably, Justin Smoak was out of the lineup on Wednesday. The big first baseman fouled a pitch hard off his right knee in Tuesday night's game.
Smoak finished the game and even drew the crucial lead-off walk in extra innings to set up the win. But after icing the knee postgame and sleeping on it, the knee was too swollen and sore to play.
"I tossed and turned all night trying to find a way to get comfortable," he said. "It felt like I had a heartbeat in my knee it was throbbing so much."
Smoak said he'd never fouled a ball off his back leg on a swing. But he said with number of pitchers throwing cutters, you will see it more and more from hitters.
"You never see a cutter till you get to pro baseball," he said. "Up here, guys are throwing them all the time and throwing them 90 to 92 miles-per-hour."
As for the bad luck of having it happen to him, Smoak could only shake his head at some of fluky injuries he's battled.
"If it was going to happen to someone, you know it's going to happen to me," Smoak said.
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