Ichiro still producing for Miami Marlins late into MLB career


April 2nd, 2001: A baseball superstar from Japan by the name of Ichiro Suzuki breaks onto the American baseball scene as a right-fielder for the Seattle Mariners. He recorded two hits in five at-bats in his Major-League debut, quickly gaining favor wearing jersey No. 51 for a Mariners team that would go on to amass 116 wins that same season.

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Ichiro carried the hit-collecting trend throughout his rookie season. The 27-year-old NPB-to-MLB sensation kept racking up the hits and flashing the leather, which resulted in collecting some accolades as well during his first campaign: a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger, an American League Most Valuable Player award and a Rookie of the Year award.

July 23rd, 2012: The New York Yankees travel to Safeco Field in Seattle to play a three-game set. The Yankees ball club went on to take two of three games of that series, but also took away a major facet of the Seattle Mariners team: a then-MLB-veteran right fielder in Ichiro Suzuki. Prior to the game on July 23rd, 2012, the Yankees sent away two prospects to acquire Ichiro from the Mariners.

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  • Many baseball writers and fans saw the writing on the wall: prior to the 2011 season, Ichiro had not posted a batting average below .300. By the end of the 2011 season Ichiro sported a .272 average and at the time of his trade the then 38-year-old was only hitting .262. For any other player, such an average would be just that: average. But for the sweet swinging veteran right fielder, the number showed signs of decline. No longer was Ichiro a shining star, he was another face in the crowd. The sun was setting on the twilight of a remarkable eleven year career.

    June 15th, 2015: Nearly three years prior to this date Ichiro Suzuki and the Mariners parted ways via trade, one party developing a youth movement to inspire the future and the other an aging player who hasn’t seen the playoffs since his rookie days. The latter party caught a brief glimpse of the playoffs later in the year but hasn’t been there since.

    Before that date, Ichiro decided to don the vibrant, colorful uniforms of the Miami Marlins after signing a one-year, $2 million contract in the offseason to be a veteran player coming off the bench for a young team hopeful of a playoff berth. In his role of replacing tired starters or injured players, Ichiro has recorded 147 plate appearances with a .288/.338/.338 slash line. Despite currently being MLB’s oldest rostered position player, Ichiro has still managed to swipe six bases this season, good for second most on the Marlins.

    No longer does Ichiro bat lead-off everyday or provide Gold Glove caliber defense regularly. Those All-Star days are in the past. However, he still produces three years after what many believed to be the beginning of the end for the outfielder.

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    In 2013, his age 39 season, Ichiro played in 150 games and logged 555 plate appearances, posting a .262 BA and a .639 OPS. During 2014, he played in 143 games and logged 385 plate appearances, posting a .284 BA and .664 OPS. In his small sample of 2015 he has appeared in 94 percent of Miami’s games.

    Are these numbers stellar? No. But they provide a sign that Ichiro can still keep up at age 41, an age where many athletes have already dipped into their retirement funds and turned focus onto other pursuits. He who was once a star that overshadowed a struggling Mariners ball club, inspiring the nation of Japan, now provides support in the hard-working shadow of another star in the form of Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton.

    If Ichiro can maintain his veteran consistency, he can find his way into more record books. The Hall of Fame is a guarantee at this point of his career, plus he’s only 156 hits away from the milestone 3,000 hit mark. The Miami Marlins sit at 28-37 in a struggling NL East division this year, only 6.5 games back from the top. If they can turn things around, Ichiro could find himself playing a role in a run for October as a veteran guiding a young group of three talented outfielders whose average age is 17 years his junior.

    Next: What remains for Ichiro to play for?