In this age of social media slamming, it was interesting for me to watch the reactions across the board from Yankees fans when Ichiro was traded. It actually sailed by the head of one of my buddies, who was out mini-golfing of all things. He came home after chopping up that course, had a hearty repast and settled in for the Yankees game. Imagine his surprise when he saw Ichiro settling under a line drive in Yankees duds.
Immediately after hearing of the deal I scrambled to my binders of scorecards to seeing if I happened to be in attendance for the fanfaronade of Ichiro’s 2001 debut, or any other big games the man partook in. Well, I got hit with the slapdash of reality that my last scored game was from 2000, even though I have surely been out there a fair deal since then. My days of “scoring” stopped once I started getting into the games in the fourth after prolonging my drinking time outside, so I have nothing documented on this man, but I do have the memories.
I remember Hiro, a longtime creature who was also from Japan, eagerly giving us lessons in the language out in the seats, so we could shout an insult Ichiro would actually recognize. And I remember our good friend MetsSuckBalls coming in with printouts from his computer with all kinds of naughty Japanese words. (Hey, its how we worked out there!) The printouts weren’t just for Ichiro. They were for all the Asian baseball fans he brought in with him. Bless them.
Did people respect Ichiro? Surely. Did we boo him? Oh, very loudly. When a legend comes to town you take a moment to appreciate them, and then move on and fight for your home turf. I think back to when Tony Gwynn, that roly-poly hitting machine, came to town for some hot World Series action. The first time he came shambling out to the outfield, we welcomed him with a warm hand. We were standing, waving, welcoming him to New York and wishing him well. He grinned and waved back. Everyone was happy. Then the game started and the first pitch was thrown. “Hey, Gwynn!” someone hollered. “You suck!” At this, hundreds of people jumped back to their feet and a “Gwynn sucks! Gwynn sucks! Gwynn sucks!” chant boomed through the night. Gwynn was taken aback. The affair was over. Respect was shown, but now it was time for rancor.
Ichiro understood this. Sure, we would talk out there about how annoying he was, how stupid it was that he was swinging at pitches over his head or buzzing the ground and pinging them for hits, and throwing beams from the outfield and busting rallies. He looked wispy and even frail at times. He ran fast, but it was sort of funny looking from where we sat. He was always playing hard and while you love that in a player you don’t like to see it against your team, so you boo it.
While I’m sure the Bleacher Creatures are no way in Ichiro’s head, I’m confident that if asked about that group and other rowdy Yankees fans he has encountered from the opposite sides of the fence, he would have a chuckle. But now it’s the foe becoming the friend, and it’s time to move on.
It only took about six minutes after the first tweets earmarking the deal had hit before the “He’d better not touch No. 51!” started flying about. While Bernie Williams’ number hasn’t been retired, Yankees fans continue to scare everyone else away from it. I’m not adverse to someone claiming the digits sometime in the future if the number isn’t retired (and Ichiro with his Hall of Fame resume surely would be deserving of the accolade), but this may simply be a two-month rental, and it’s not the time. It was interesting to watch the salvos going back and forth, and a longtime bleacher denizen and buddy of mine, Justin, tweeted “Future HOFer Ichiro Suzuki can’t have non-HOFer Bernie Williams’ number, so he gets HOFer Dave Winfield’s number instead. Got it.”
Another interesting crop of fans are the ones that dislike the deal. There are few who are ruminating on the loss of D.J. Mitchell or Danny Farquhar, but I’ve seen a lot of grumbling over the loss of DeWayne Wise. Look, I liked Wise in his own way, but I prefer taking a flyer on a player like Ichiro. Sometimes Yankee fans (myself included) like to complain just to complain. I was actually a D.J. Mitchell fan, griping that he was passed up for spot starts last year and was always behind Adam Warren in the pecking order.
For now, Ichiro is our friend. He will be greeted with cheers that immediately turn to jeers once the first pitch is thrown. He will get to come up with a way to acknowledge Roll Call, and get a groaner of a home run call concocted by Jolly John Sterling. And after the season is over, he will probably move on, and we can boo him again.