In the first of what I hope will be a lengthy series of reader-submitted columns, Matt Estrada tells of his introduction to Mariner fandom and how Ichiro Suzuki became a favorite in the Estrada household.
In 2001 I was eight years into my Washington State citizenship and four years into my relationship with my wife-to-be, Tracy. She and her dad, Gordon, were Seattle Mariners fans, and they helped rekindle an admittedly tiny spark I had for baseball, only vaguely started by a few A’s games a family friend took me to as a kid. Tracy and my future father-in-law took me to see the Mariners at the doomed Kingdome, followed by the glorious new Safeco Field, and how could baseball fanhood not take root at that beautiful new ballpark? When Tracy and I had a daughter together, we started taking her along, too—Tacoma Rainiers as well as M’s games.
Our daughter turned one when Ichiro Suzuki joined the Mariners in ‘01, and Ichiro of course took the baseball world by storm. As my nascent fanhood grew with the team, it was fun to have a superstar that didn't predate that fanhood. Sure, I was thrilled to see the stars of what was to become the Mariners’ past (Edgar, Griffey, the Big Unit, Buhner, et. al), but their respective heydays “belonged” to the older fans. Ichiro was as new to everyone else as he was to me, and it somehow felt more legitimate for me to root for him.
So we continued to go to games, and our daughter got a tiny navy blue shirt with the Mariner’s compass on the front and Ichiro's name and number on the back. In 2002 we had a son, who inherited that same shirt a couple of years later. I also started dragging my oldest son, Lucas, to games—though it took him a while to come around. Baseball never really took with our daughter, but my youngest son seemed fated to love the sport. By the time Ichiro left the Mariners in 2012, our then ten-year-old son had grown into quite a fan, even dressing as Ichiro one Halloween—complete with Ichiro's trademark five o'clock shadow done in mascara. We were sad to see Ichiro go, but all agreed it was better that someone of his skills have a chance at the playoffs again elsewhere rather than languish here. We followed his jaunts with the Yankees (where they of course made him shave) and the Marlins, thrilling at his continued exploits, as well as sadly noting the oncoming inevitability of his eventual retirement.
Upon hearing in Spring Training of this year that he would be a late addition to Your Seattle Mariners, fans rejoiced emotionally if not logically; obviously, it was fun to have him back, but I think we were all realistic about how it would go. My son and I and one of his pals went to Opening Day, and we were excited as anyone when Ichiro was finally announced. The roar of the crowd when his unmistakable silhouette appeared on the big screen was massive, and when he jogged out onto the field the crowd exploded. Later, his first at-bat was accompanied by monstrous chants of "I-CHI-RO," and it was almost like he'd never left.
The night before it was announced that Ichiro would be immediately moving into a front office role, my family and I were having pizza at a local restaurant to celebrate my daughter's eighteenth birthday. The M’s were on the nearby TV, and we were happy to catch part of the game as we never get to watch them at home. Ichiro came up to bat in the third, and it was still thrilling to see him stretch, step in, do his trademark sleeve tug, and face the pitcher. He walked, and it was good to see him get on base in any fashion. After dinner we went home, opened presents, lit candles, and sang happy birthday to my now second adult child. In the meantime, despite James Paxton’s best efforts, the Mariners were now in danger of losing the game. It was the bottom of the ninth with one out, two men on, and they were down 3-2. If Heredia could score from second they would tie it; if Healy could score from first… Ichiro stepped to the plate then, and the crowd went properly bananas. The radio conveyed those magical, hopeful chants of "I-CHI-RO" into our living room, and we all paused and listened intently. The future first ballot Hall-of-Famer, likely the second (or third? #EdgarHOF) Mariner to enter Cooperstown, doubtless one of the most thrilling baseball players to ever grace the field—could he bring all of his decades of intense preparation, skill, and experience to bear and win the game one more time? In Ichiro’s last at bat in 2018 he struck out swinging on a 1-2 count. New sensation Dee Gordon got on to load the bases, but Jean Segura grounded out to end the game.
When Ichiro’s new front office position was announced the next day, some version of the rumors that he’d end his career the upcoming weekend were confirmed. He’s not technically retired, in fact hopes for a comeback next year, but realistically it feels like it’s over. Something about the end of Ichiro as a ballplayer, coupled with my daughter reaching voting age, really affected me that day. My mom passed late last year, and that has certainly made me feel and examine things in a much more emotional manner than usual. As I’m certain most parents do, I thought back over the previous eighteen years with our daughter and reminisced over good times and milestones, cringed over parental missteps, and got what my mom used to call verklempt. And I also spent part of the day re-watching famous moments from Ichiro’s career, of course. Though it’s difficult for me to “close the book” on my daughter as a child, I’m also excited to see what’s next for her. I know I’ll always be her dad, and will likely continue to bug her with unsolicited fatherly input, but soon she will master her own fate in her own way. And while it’s also hard to see Ichiro pack it in (unless?...), I’m grateful to have been able to watch his unique, storied career, and thankful he was part of my fanhood. A T-shirt design I recently saw sums it up for me: Ichiro forever.
Matt Estrada is a long time Tacoma resident by way of San Jose, CA. He still believes "visualize world series" is a meaningful, if clearly ineffective, mantra.