ICHIRO'S INCREDIBLE YEAR:
Batter Thrilled Fans on Both Sides of the Pacific
January 10, 2002
Japanese baseball fans were mesmerized throughout the year by the play of Major League outfielder Ichiro (full name Ichiro Suzuki), 28. In his first season in the American big leagues, Ichiro not only grabbed Rookie of the Year Award honors but also became the first Japanese player ever to win the American League Most Valuable Player Award. He became only the second big leaguer ever to win both of these awards in the same season. Accolades for Ichiro's accomplishments have continued to pile up, not only from the sports world but from all over his admiring home nation.
Balanced Style of Play Captivates American Fans
Ichiro moved to the Major Leagues with the Seattle Mariners to much fanfare following a stellar pro career in Japan that included seven straight batting titles. Initially, some doubted whether Ichiro, who at 180 centimeters (5 feet 11 inches) and 74 kilograms (164 pounds) possesses a relatively slim frame, would be able to withstand the rigors of a Major League season that includes 162 regular-season games played all over the United States. However, these doubts were soon quelled as he produced two hits in his debut game on April 2, 2001, in Seattle and consistently displayed his machine-like hitting precision in subsequent games. Ichiro also impressed with his base-stealing prowess and laser-beam throwing arm. He contributed to the Mariners as a lead-off hitter with a complete arsenal of offensive and defensive skills and speed. He also became the top vote getter on his way to being selected by fans to the All-Star Game in July.
At season's end Ichiro led the American League in batting average (.350), stolen bases (56), and hits (242, a record for a Major League rookie). He also received a Golden Glove Award for his defensive performances.
Throughout the Major League season all games in which Ichiro appeared were televised live in Japan, and some cited this as a reason for the decline in the ratings for live broadcasts of domestic baseball games that was seen in 2001. Ichiro's performance spurred the first heightening of interest in American Major League baseball in Japan since 1995, when pitcher Hideo Nomo, with his "tornado" action, inspired "Nomomania" as the first Japanese ballplayer to make it to the big leagues.
Major League MVP awards are usually won by power hitters, and many in the Japanese media have viewed Ichiro's receipt of the award as a sign that American baseball is rediscovering the value of a style of play that combines hitting, speed, and defense, which Ichiro epitomizes. Either way, Ichiro's performance has served as a huge inspiration to Japanese people. Though Ichiro said he felt pressured to win the Rookie of the Year Award, he admitted to being pleasantly surprised at receiving MVP honors.
A Humble Star
Some have voiced concern over whether Ichiro will be able to maintain his high level of performance in the years to come, but considering he has been improving ever since he started his career in Japan, Japanese fans have high hopes that Ichiro's star will shine even brighter next year.