Ichiro Suzuki has played his final MLB game — and his goodbye came in the country where the Japanese icon’s professional baseball career began.
As Thursday’s game between the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics headed to the bottom of the eighth inning tied at 4, Ichiro departed in an emotional farewell in a packed Tokyo Dome.
“I didn’t think that I would be in this place and be able to finish the way it happened, so (there is) just happiness,” Ichiro said to reporters through a translator. “Just really happy.”
He made his exit from right field to a roaring ovation and received hugs from his teammates and coaches. The tribute to the all-time great lasted a few minutes, culminating with Ichiro tipping his cap and waving to the crowd. He received a hug from another Mariners legend, Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. Then he took a deep breath, scooped up his bats, glove and helmet and went to the team’s clubhouse.
“For me, it doesn’t get better than tonight,” Ichiro said. “Nothing can top what happened tonight for me.”
There was still the rest of a game to play, but his career was done. Ichiro has retired after 19 MLB seasons at the age of 45. It’s all but assured he will be honored one day in Cooperstown, New York, the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Despite not getting a hit in the two-game series against Oakland, fans savored his presence. They mobbed him for autographs before the game. During it, they gave him massive ovations for each of his at-bats and his performance in right field.
In his final at-bat, Ichiro battled valiantly, fouling off pitches before ultimately grounding out to short.
The Mariners went on to win 5-4 in 12 innings, sweeping the two-game series to start the regular season.
Ichiro’s professional debut came with the Orix Blue Wave of Japan’s Pacific League on July 11, 1992, before six of his current Mariners teammates were born. He played in Japan from 1992-2000, winning three consecutive MVP awards and seven straight batting titles.
When he made the move to Seattle in 2001 — becoming the first Japanese position player to sign with an MLB team — Ichiro emphatically made his mark. He went on to win the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year awards that year, becoming just the second player ever to win both honors in the same season.
From 2001-2010, Ichiro won 10 consecutive Gold Glove Awards and made 10 straight trips to the All-Star Game.
In 2016, he reached rare company in MLB history when he recorded his 3,000th hit. To date, 32 players have reached that mark. He ranks first in Mariners franchise history in batting average, hits and steals. Overall, he has 4,367 hits between his career in Japan (1,278) and the Major Leagues (3,089).
Ichiro is one of seven players in MLB history with at least 3,000 hits and 500 stolen bases. The others are Lou Brock, Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Rickey Henderson, Paul Molitor and Honus Wagner.
In addition to the Mariners, Ichiro played for the New York Yankees and Miami Marlins in his MLB career.
Last season, Ichiro returned to Seattle and hit .205 in 15 games before he transitioned to the role of special assistant to the chairman for the club. He struggled in this year’s spring training, going 2-for-25 in 12 games.
“The original plan from the beginning that was that we go to Japan and that was what was promised,” Ichiro said. “Obviously, toward the end of spring I wasn’t able to produce, and so I knew that this would be it for me.”