The Ichiro Pause

Dean Ruts / The Seattle Times

Baseball passes the time and time passes through baseball. The game lasts nine innings and a lifetime. We age, the players age, the game does not. I’ve grown up in the era of free agency and while I agree with the idea of it, I can’t help but feel a loss from missing the franchise years. The lack of career players has forced us to become a jack-of-all-trades kind of fan. I can tell you what any pitcher will throw to Albert Pujols in the bottom of the ninth with a full count and two outs, but not what the guy on the mound will throw. I just haven’t seen the arm, the tendency, the skill enough to know.

Ichiro Suzuki, though, I knew. A funny thing to say about the most unknowable player. For almost twelve years he spoke to us through a translator in zen affirmations. Baseball was metaphor. It was discussed the same way trees are when talking about oxygen. There was the Ichiro pause; a special place where time stood still after a beat reporter asked a post-game question. Would he ever answer? He would think quietly and thoughtfully and give riddles for answers. Follow-ups were rare. Still, I felt like I knew him. I sat behind him in right field, my preferred spot, for most games. We had that in common. I played right field, too. Though it means a much different thing in little league. In the show you put a guy there that can hit and can run. In the pee wees you put a guy there that can’t do either. Ichiro might acknowledge that irony through a comment about melting snowflakes feeding a rushing river.

Physically he had quirks. That batters stance where he’d lift his bat and square it up against the pitcher. That right field stretch between batters. The slap and run. The quick finger point toward the right field bleachers when his name was called. Even his third out trot looked different, looser, cooler than most. My Father saw him once during inter-league play against the Nationals in D.C. He called him a wisp of fog as he effortlessly moved himself around the bases: a hard hit single, a stolen base, then scored from second on another single and back into the dugout, gone, the only reminder left being the slightest change of score.

My wife and I were at the 2004 game when he broke George Sisler’s 84 year record of most hits in a season. We were dating then, which seems hard to believe. I remember the energy inside Safeco Field – perhaps because I’ve never felt it buzz that way since. 46,000 people stood as he stepped into the batters box and damn if he did not hit that ball. We cheered him for his feat, for honoring the memory of George Sisler as only breaking a record can do. We cheered for him and we cheered for ourselves because greatness does rub off, it does lift us up. I cheered for a quiet and forgettable double I hit into the gap during a little league game one spring evening a very long time ago that meant nothing at all and of course so much more. Ichiro stood out there on first base that October night not realizing at first that we wouldn’t stop cheering and then after a pause he lifted his cap.


About Iaan Hughes

Iaan Hughes is a deejay on 91.3 KBCS in Seattle. He plays country & western music.
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2 Responses to The Ichiro Pause

  1. Beautiful tribute to an elegant player. Although it is impossible to root for the Yankees, I hope he has great success there.

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