Ichiro Suzuki’s wall-scraping triple on Sunday afternoon set off a celebration. It marked the end of a 3-for-26 slump, and his 3,000th major league hit. Watching the future Hall of Famer pursue that milestone in a Miami Marlins uniform was a big incentive for the team to re-sign him this past offseason, but what keeps Suzuki motivated?
Last month, he explained to ESPN The Magazine that 3,000 was just a number to him, not a specific goal:
I think the media or the outside is really more into it than I am. It's a bigger deal for them. I like to read the news, but when I pull up a Japanese site and an article comes up with my face, I never read it. If people only knew the huge gap that exists between the attention it gets in the media and how I feel. That gap is a big difference.
In that same interview, the 42-year-old insists that aging isn’t an excuse for a decline in performance, and that his physical condition hasn’t changed since his peak in the 2000s. Despite the recent hits drought, Suzuki is still rocking a .341 wOBA with sound outfield defense.
He believes he can still contribute, and he is. Plus, for a veteran who’s never even appeared in a World Series, it ought to be invigorating to have a significant role on a contender. “I want to play until I am at least 50,” Suzuki says.
“You have to truly love the grind,” as Jose Fernandez gets paid to say, but it’s also important to keep giving yourself mountains to climb. Something tangible to reach for. Here are a few recommendations.
In 16 MLB seasons, Ichiro has faced all 30 teams and recorded hits in 39 different venues. Suzuki can take pride in the fact that his unique playing style translates everywhere. Of all the active stadiums, Great American Ball Park is his white whale. In three career games there, he’s 0-for-3.
His next opportunity to change that comes August 15-18 when the Marlins visit the Cincinnati Reds. Four games against a pitching staff with the league’s 28th-ranked home earned run average means that he will probably cross this off his bucket list during that series.
Of course, his career has been about much more than just seeing-eye singles. Suzuki also contributes to his team’s offense with aggressive, efficient baserunning. He ranks 3rd-best in history with 94.8 BsR and tops among active players with 507 steals.
The only current ballparks where he hasn’t stolen a base? GABP and Citi Field. The latter looks like the easier target this summer, as the New York Mets struggle to control the running game.
It’s been fascinating to see Suzuki stick around for so long with a consistent skill set as the sport rapidly changes around him. Swings and misses have skyrocketed since the start of his career, a period during which we’ve witnessed the seven highest single-season strikeouts rates, per FanGraphs (min. 50 IP). Yet this legend is immune to the trend; his 9.5 K% in 2016 is an improvement on a lifetime 9.8 K%, which is already excellent.
He humbled Mariano Rivera with the outcome of a game hanging in the balance. Doing the same to this generation’s shutdown closer would be the cherry on top of a career that has all the ingredients needed to be truly unforgettable.