Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know by now that long-time Seattle Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki was traded to the New York Yankees. In a unique set of circumstances, the Yankees were in Seattle at the time of the trade, so Ichiro literally had to walk down the hall of Safeco Field to join his new team. And then, just an hour after he was standing in the Mariners’ clubhouse for the last time, Ichiro was on the field for the Yankees — in front of the fans that rooted him on for nearly 12 seasons.
I actually learned about the Ichiro trade when I was driving into work. I was originally expecting a fairly easy day at the ballpark, simply previewing the series opener between the Yankees and Mariners, but I quickly realized that wasn’t going to be the case. I walked into the newsroom and there was a definite buzz. Instructions immediately started flying in my direction, and I was quickly on my way to Safeco Field for the Mariners official press conference.
I’ve never seen so much media at Safeco before. Yes, I’m new to Seattle again, but I did an internship with KOMO radio in 2003 when they were the flagship station for the Mariners — I was at every M’s home game and I never witnessed anything like this. The interview room was packed with local, national and international reporters. Ichiro was very stoic (for lack of a better word — maybe straight-faced is better) at first and he sat with perfect posture. He spoke through an interpreter — only addressing the media in Japanese. Ichiro thanked the Seattle fans and said he was overcome with emotion when he thought about wearing the Mariners uniform for the last time. Suzuki requested the trade, something he started thinking about over the All-Star break. After 15 minutes or so, Seattle’s front office left the podium, and New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi replaced them. Ichiro seemed to loosen up after that. He spoke louder, smiled and even started cracking jokes. He just seemed really comfortable with his new surroundings.
It’s not often a player in any sport is traded to the opposing team at their home ballpark. Ichiro said goodbye to his old teammates and then was suited up against them just hours later. It was honestly surreal for me to watch Ichiro take the field for the first time in a Yankees uniform (and it was even more unbelievable that it was happening at Safeco Field). He received an ovation from the New York and Seattle fans who were there to watch batting practice. Instead of hanging out with Felix Hernandez, Dustin Ackley and Chone Figgins, Ichiro was now joking around with Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and C.C. Sabathia. It was interesting to see.
The ovations didn’t stop for Ichiro all night. The crowd roared when his name was announced in the Yankees starting lineup (batting eighth, playing right field and wearing the number 31 — he didn’t want to wear 51 to honor former New York Yankees great Bernie Williams), they cheered when he ran onto the field to take his position in the outfield, and they rose to their feet when he made his first plate appearance. Ichiro, appreciating the gesture, stepped out of the box, lifted his cap to the crowd, and then bowed to the fans. It was a very emotional moment for anyone in the dugouts, in attendance at Safeco Field and watching on television. I honestly got chills when the Seattle fans started the famous ”I-chi-ro” chant — even though their former star was now trying to beat their beloved Mariners.
Ichiro finished the night 1-for-4. He got a hit in his first at bat, stole second, and was eventually stranded on base. Suzuki then popped out to second in his second at bat, grounded out to first in his third plate appearance, and then lined out to second in his last at bat. As luck would have it, Ichiro made the final out of the game as Jesus Montero flied to right to secure a 4-1 Yankees victory. Suzuki’s catch capped an all around crazy night at Safeco Field — unlike anything we’ll see again in the near future.
After the game Ichiro told me that it was a “tough day” and he was actually ”nervous” for the his first game as a Yankee. He said that he’s happy the trade is over, and now he can start to focus on baseball again. Alex Rodriguez never played with Ichiro in Seattle, but the two became friends over the years anyway. A-Rod (which is what the name plate says above his locker) called Suzuki a “rock star” and he says this should serve as a huge “shot in the arm for Ichiro.” A fresh start might just be what Ichiro needs too — he was hitting a career low .261 in Seattle this season.
I wasn’t surprised Ichiro was traded to the Yankees (or anyone else for that matter). I was only shocked by what the Mariners got in return for him. Here’s a quick survey — raise your hand if you’d ever heard the names D.J. Mitchell or Danny Farquhar before the Ichiro trade. OK…now raise your hand if you still have no idea who D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar are. Chances are we’ll never know much about either of these guys. Both are 25-year-old right-handed pitchers, and both are currently in AAA. Williams, who’s played all of three games in the big leagues in his career, has a 5.00+ ERA in the minors this season, while Farquhar is now playing for his third team this year. If Mitchell and Farquhar are remembered for anything; chances are they’ll be remembered as “the guys who were traded for Ichiro.”
There’s a part of me that thinks it’s cool the Mariners honored Suzuki’s trade request by sending him to a winner. At 38, Ichiro is getting older, and his window to win a World Series is getting smaller. Suzuki is one of the best players to ever come through Seattle, and he kept the M’s on the baseball map even after several consecutive miserable seasons. He served his time in the Emerald City and it was time for him to move on. I do think it’s interesting that the Mariners just gave Ichiro away though. When I first heard about the deal, I expected to hear that one of New York’s top prospect was heading to Seattle — instead it was two minor league relief pitchers and cash. The M’s literally gave Ichiro away.
Covering the Ichiro trade is a something I’ll never forget. It’s always wild to be thrust into the biggest story in sports. We were all at the center of the baseball world. There’s nothing more thrilling in the television business than a huge, breaking story like this. I was there to experience everything firsthand — from a perspective that hardly anyone else got to. That’s why I feel like I have the best job in the world, and I’m happy to share my “inside” experience with you.
What is your reaction to Ichiro being traded to the New York Yankees? How weird was it to see Ichiro in a different uniform — playing against his old team? I would love to hear from you about this. You can leave a comment below, or connect with me on Twitter, Facebook and/or Google+. Don’t forget you can find more great sports coverage right now on http://allaroundtim.com!