September 7, 2009

Ichiro 05

Yesterday I went to the third game in the Red Sox’ four-game series against the White Sox, thanks to the kind invite of Joe Stillwell of Stats, Inc. In the first inning, after the first two White Sox batters reached base, Paul Konerko lifted a blooper to short right field. My eyes went to the right fielder, JD Drew, who was racing forward but who clearly would not be able to reach the ball before it landed. The ball hung in the air long enough for me to feel sorry for myself. All season long I’d been looking forward to the Red Sox lone visit to the city where I live, and they had lost the first game of the series 12-2, had gone down with barely a whimper in the second game, a 5-1 loss, and now this: first inning, bases loaded and nobody out. But as I was going through this litany of self-pity, Dustin Pedroia appeared as if from nowhere, lunged, and made a spectacular running catch. He then whirled immediately and threw a strike to the shortstop, Alex Gonzalez, doubling off the White Sox leadoff man, Scott Podsednik, who had strayed several yards from second as the blooper neared its seemingly sure resting place in the grass. In an instant too quick to take a breath, what looked to be a disastrous start had quieted to two out and a man on first.

Beside me, Joe remarked on the alertness of the second act of Pedroia’s play, and of baseball players in general. This morning, as I was turning the play over in my mind, I thought about my own athletic history, and how I periodically punctuated my anonymous, generally ineffectual efforts with a stupid play of one sort or another. Again and again, my mind wandered, or got lost in the flurry of activity, or just went into a blind white panic. The next moment, when I would come back to myself, always felt like the stunned and queasy moment after a minor accident. Eyes would be on me, for once, but not in a good way.

Well, nobody’s perfect, and even professional athletes make bonehead plays, but the amazing thing about these athletes is that these mental miscues are the rare exception to the norm. Labor Day seems to be a good time to celebrate this element of the major leaguer’s job skills, so I thought before spending the rest of the day lazing around and watching baseball players work, I’d briefly turn my own wandering focus on a current baseball star who epitomizes the impressive mindfullness of professional athletes.

Yesterday this player got his 2,000th hit, reaching the mark in fewer games than anyone in baseball history besides Al Simmons (Ichiro needed 12 more games than the 1930s basher). Barring some unforeseen calamity, Ichiro will collect his 200th hit of the year in a few days, which will set the record for most consecutive seasons (nine) with 200 or more hits, a record he currently shares with Wee Willie Keeler. I haven’t had the opportunity to watch him much, but I have to think, judging from his hitting and fielding records, which are not only remarkable for their constancy but also as close to flawless as the failure-riddled metrics of a baseball player can allow, that he’s had few, if any, moments when he didn’t know exactly what to do at any given moment in a baseball game.


  1. I remember fairly early in Ichiro’s career him being up against the Red Sox with the bases loaded. (It seems like it was a key moment in the game, possibly tied, I’ll have to find the game.) I like to think that I’ve played and watched the game for long enough so that I’m ready for anything, but Ichiro laid down a bunt, and when I heard Castiglione say it, it caught me–and the Red Sox–by complete surprise, and the run came home. The ultimate “tip your cap to your opponent” situation. I’ve had mucho respect for the guy ever since.

    I’m wondering what will happen when he reaches Rose’s hit total (combining his hits here and in Japan). Should happen in 5-6 years.

  2. Found the game. May 11, 2002. It was only the second inning in a scoreless game, but there were two outs, and it was a 1-1 count. He bunts in the run against Darren Oliver, who is immediately replaced by Tim Wakefield. M’s go on to win, 3-1.

  3. In my life I’ve seen two records broken live and in person. The first was a fluke: I was just a kid at the game where Fernando Tatis hit a pair of grand slams off Chan Ho Park in the same inning. But the second really meant something.

    I got to see Ichiro break the single season hits record in 2004 on a single up the middle. It wasn’t flashy, it wasn’t spectacular, but it was Ichiro. He plays the game with a simple, mechanical grace, that’s not only hard to find fault in, but hard to find even the slightest whisper change in. His is a kind of inverse greatness — he’s great by being so constantly constantly good.

  4. gedmaniac:
    Ah, the 2-out bases loaded bunt. My favorite instance of that stunner, which I’ve mentioned before on this site, is when weak-hitting Muggsy Allenson won a 1982 game by pulling the stunt in the bottom of the tenth:

    Also, here’s a good article on Ichiro that appeared recently in the NY Times:

  5. Thank god there will always be major leaguers like Scott Podsednik around to make our Little League mental errors seem acceptable.

  6. I don’t know if I can blame Podsednik for getting doubled off second. Everyone in the park thought the ball was going to drop, and he couldn’t have scored from second on a blooper without getting a bit of a head start.

  7. So Josh… How did this non-Cardboard-Gods-Era card wind up in your collection? (You usually have some sort of story for cards such as these….)

  8. That play by Pedroia was certainly fantastic. Just getting to that ball would’ve been enough to call it a great play, but being able to so quickly turn around and make the throw to double off the runner… that’s almost unbelievable.

    I wanted to try to head down to Chicago for one of the games this weekend but, a) it’s way too expensive to see a premiere game at US Cellular from the field level (anything non-field level is out of the question since you’re not allowed to walk around the lower concourse if your seats are for the upper deck) and b) I have to go to Boston in a couple of weeks, so the money seemed better saved until then. Not that I’m complaining too much – I did get to see a triple play and a (very exciting) walkoff homer on Sunday and got to meet up with an ESPN personality for a bit on Monday.

    Anyhow, to tie this back to the Red Sox and Ichiro – and to say what I wanted to say to begin with – the best play that I’ve probably ever seen in person was made by Ichiro against the Sox last year. You can see the video of it here. That’s how you make an over the shoulder catch at the wall!

  9. One underrecognized aspect of Ichiro is that he’s gotta be one of the greatest baseball quote machines of all time. I don’t know if the language barrier makes his quotes funnier, or what, but witness this example from Josh’s NY Times link above:

    “Chicks who dig home runs aren’t the ones who appeal to me,” he said. “I think there’s sexiness in infield hits because they require technique. I’d rather impress the chicks with my technique than with my brute strength. Then, every now and then, just to show I can do that, too, I might flirt a little by hitting one out.”

  10. bldxyz:
    “How did this non-Cardboard-Gods-Era card wind up in your collection?”

    I honestly don’t remember. The majority of my smattering of post-1981 cards have come in a couple holiday gift packs from my wife’s aunt, but I think this card might have come in one of the packs I buy every once in a while for old times’ sake.

    You’re so right about the upper deck-lower deck divide at “the Cell.” Sunday was the first time I had the privelege of sitting in the lower section, and, boy, did it make a difference. It’ll hurt when I have to go back to the (relatively) cheap seats where I belong.

    Eric Enders:
    I noticed that quote too. I have to start paying more attention to this cat before he calls it quits.

  11. Infield hits are better than home runs? Who knew Ichiro and Ty Cobb had so much in common?
    Ichiro said a lot of awesome things, but he’s at his best when he talks about things he dislikes.

    “To tell the truth, I’m not excited to go to Cleveland, but we have to. If I ever saw myself saying I’m excited going to Cleveland, I’d punch myself in the face, because I’m lying.”

  12. Ichiro on great athletes: “Tiger is a great golfer, but … when you say athlete, I think of Carl Lewis. When you talk about (golfers or race-car drivers), I don’t want to see them run. It’s the same if you were to meet a beautiful girl and go bowling. If she’s an ugly bowler, you are going to be disappointed.”


    I love Ichiro. And maybe Matsui more.

    Not because he’s a Yankee, but because of this:


    the info on his film collection is particularly vital.

  13. gee, I had no idea Matsui had a beard…

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