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From The Asian Reporter, V15, #13 (March 29, 2005), page 15.
How does he do it? Ichiro tells all
Ichiro on Ichiro
By Narumi Komatsu
Translated by Philip Gabriel
Sasquatch Books, 2004
Hardcover, 242 pages, $23.95
Black-and-white and full-color photographs
By Mike Street
Special to the Asian Reporter
If youíve seen anything about baseball in the news lately, itís probably been about steroids pumping up sluggers like Barry Bonds, or the revolving door that is modern free agency, luring even franchise stalwart Pedro Martinez away from the Boston Red Sox. The best all-around baseball player of the past several seasons, however, has remained untouched by either of these blights.
Highly coveted even before he announced his decision to play in America, this player signed with the small-market Seattle Mariners for much less than he might have received elsewhere. His assault on one of baseballís more venerable records ó his 262 hits last season eclipsed George Sislerís 1920 record of 257 hits ó could never be attributed to steroids. With a batting style that changes with each pitch he faces, he sprays line drives all over the field ó but rarely over the wall ó collecting more hits in his first four major league seasons than any player in history. Heís the only Major League ballplayer with his first name on his jersey, the name heís known by all over the world ó Ichiro.
Ichiro Suzuki (he dropped his last name while playing in Japan, so as not to conflict with his endorsement of Nissan automobiles) entered the world of American baseball in 2001, after eight seasons with the Orix Blue Wave of Kobe, Japan. In that time, he twice flirted with .400 (a batting average never attained in Japan) and finished with over 1,200 hits and a career .353 batting average. After he became the first Japanese position player ever to sign with a major league team, baseball commentators wondered if Ichiro could ever approach those numbers in the United States. After all, they said, Japanese stadiums were smaller, their seasons shorter, their pitchers less talented than in America. Some even wondered if Ichiro could hit .300 in the U.S.
Ichiro responded with 242 hits (breaking a ninety-year-old rookie record) and a .350 average in 2001, becoming only the second player in history to be awarded both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same season. Since then heís collected four consecutive Gold Gloves, stolen 152 bases, and won the 2004 American League batting title with the highest average in four years. Nowadays, critics donít wonder if Ichiro can hit .300, but if he can hit .400, a level unreached by any major league player since 1941.
For Ichiro, making history has become a regular, and expected, occurrence.
The most amazing thing about Ichiro, however, might be his humility and intellect. Narumi Komatsu brings this to the fore, along with Ichiroís undeniable charm and expressiveness, in her new book, Ichiro on Ichiro, drawn from a series of conversations and interviews conducted with the Marinersí superstar since his arrival in the American major leagues. In an era when players are encouraged to become self-aggrandizing braggarts, Ichiro is able to point out his flaws and shortcomings and sincerely address the bad points in his career.
Divided into topics ranging from "Hitting the Inside Pitch" to "My Life as a Mariner," Komatsuís book deftly delivers the wit and wisdom of Japanís greatest hitter, along with many personal stories and anecdotes of his years in Japan and the U.S. As any good interviewer should, Komatsu remains firmly in the background, asking just the right questions to get Ichiro to open up about his "wall-building" theory of hitting or his strategies against certain pitchers. Komatsu includes dialogue with Ichiroís wife, Yumiko, balancing discussions of strategic minutiae with talks about his difficult transition to life in the U.S. or their super-secret wedding in Japan.
Most intriguing, however, are the discussions of Ichiroís theory and practice of baseball, from his unconventional batting stance to his approach to defense and stealing. I have read many baseball books, and Ichiro is by far the most intelligent and articulate commentator on the game, the best hitter who can also explain in great detail how heís tinkered with his swing and timing to produce his jaw-dropping results. The bookís photographs, which range from personal childhood photos to frame-by-frame breakdowns of his hitting, throwing, and stealing, provide a strong visual complement to Ichiroís explanations.
The only weak part of the book comes from the timing of its conversations, most of which occurred before Ichiro established himself as the major-league superstar that he is today. Listening to the man who regularly breaks decades-old records wonder if he can be good enough to play in America makes Ichiro sound humbler than he actually is. Overall, however, this is a page-turner for casual and rabid baseball fans alike, and certainly a must-read for any Ichiro fan anywhere. Ichiro on Ichiro is the perfect salve for Mariners fans anxious to see what records the most exciting player in baseball will break in 2005.