Maybe it wasn’t quite Ted Williams hitting a home run in his final major-league at-bat, but don’t tell that to Mariners fans. Thousands of them stood and roared with approval Wednesday after Ichiro Suzuki socked one over the Safeco Field wall in what may have been his last at-bat in Seattle.
For the past three seasons, Suzuki has been with the Miami Marlins, but his playing time is sporadic these days and, at age 43, he may be in his final season. Suzuki has said that he wants to play until he is 50, but there is a distinct possibility that his decorated MLB career is coming to a close, and even if he spends a few more years with the Marlins, it could be longer than that before they visit Seattle again. Thus his presence lent a major story line to Miami’s three-game series in Seattle, the teams’ only meeting this season and their first at Safeco since 2011.
Wednesday marked the final game of that series, giving Mariners fans one last chance, at least this season, to cheer for a player who spent 11-plus seasons in Seattle establishing himself as one of the best hitters in MLB history. From 2001, when he made his major-league debut, through 2011, Suzuki led the league in hits seven times and batting average twice. He won the 2001 AL MVP and rookie of the year awards, set an MLB record with 262 hits in 2004, went to 10 all-star games and won 10 Gold Gloves.
In 2012, Suzuki went to the Yankees in a midseason trade, and he spent two full seasons in New York before moving on to Miami. After Wednesday’s game, a 10-5 Mariners win, he said he wanted to experience a memorable moment just as much as the fans did.
“It was my last at-bat, obviously, and the last chance. With the game the way it was going, that’s what I wanted to hit, right there,” Suzuki told The Associated Press through an interpreter, while also indicating he hoped to have another trip to Seattle in the future. “Saw the ball go over the fence and I have to pinch myself to make sure that really happened. I feel grateful that happened.”
Other players, both for the Marlins and Mariners, were similarly awed by the moment. “You don’t want to see your opponent hit a home run off you, but at that moment, that was pretty special,” Seattle third baseman Kyle Seager told the Seattle Times.
“He’s the king, man,” pitcher Edinson Volquez, who started the game for the Marlins, told the Miami Herald. “He got so much love in this ballpark. I think the whole entire series, they loved him. It was great to see him hit a homer today for his friends, for the team and for himself.”
“Of course he did that,” Miami’s Christian Yelich said. “What else would he do in a moment like that?”
“I had chills for him,” Seager added. “… That was bigger than just this game.”
The day began with fans at Safeco receiving Suzuki bobblehead figurines that featured him in both his Mariners and Marlins uniforms. The fan who caught the home run was able to meet Suzuki in person and trade the souvenir for an autographed bat.
“I love Ichiro,” the fan, Kevin Shannon, told MLB.com. “He’s one of the greatest I’ve ever seen. A part of my baseball soul belongs to Ichiro.”
Of his home-run ball, Suzuki said, “I thought, ‘You know what, this will be a memorable something to hold onto.’ I was glad to get that.”
For all his accomplishments at the plate, Suzuki was never a home run hitter, although he has said he could hit 40 a season if we were willing to sacrifice his batting average. Wednesday’s clout was his first of the year and just his fourth since 2014.
“I can’t really put a rank on that (hit), but … I’ll remember this one,” Suzuki said. “This will be a special one for a while.”