We all need to agree on something: regardless of what happens this baseball season we will all start appreciating Ichiro Suzuki more. The proverbial diamond in the Seattle rough has been the most consistently great baseball player this side of Albert Pujols for the past 10 years and yet the man from Japan gets relatively little pub whatsoever. Now, we all know that a massive East Coast bias exists in sports coverage, particularly in the baseball world of Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies. That doesn’t excuse the fact that one of the greatest hitters of all time has been overlooked while he wastes an amazing career away in the Northwest hell hole that is Seattle sports (sorry Seahawks fans, I’m not giving you credit for wining that abortion of a division). It’s not his fault he’s loyal.
Granted, Seattle fans tend to be regarded as some of the most underrated in sports. Not only do they have to suffer through crappy weather year round, but the Mariners have made the playoffs once in Ichiro’s tenure (his first year no less), the Seahawks have largely faltered since their Super Bowl run in 2005 and the Washington Huskies (yup, I’m going to the college game) have been a non-factor in football for the better part of a decade. Oh, and its widely believed that the commissioner of the NBA screwed the city out of its basketball team in yet another David Stern related conspiracy theory. In spite of it all the fans still show up, probably in the hopes that the sports gods won’t, once again, rip their collective hearts out. Still, the lack of success has led to a media coverage vacuum that has left Ichiro with comparatively little national (read: American) love.
On that note, my personal baseball related mission of the year (other than wishing bad things on Hank Steinbrenner) is to garner more pub and appreciation for the greatest Asian sensation in American athletics. With all 10 of you reading this, this should catch on like gangbusters. But seriously, if you need any further convincing allow me to oblige.
In his first 10 years in the majors Ichiro has had at least 200 hits every single season. The only other person to have 10 seasons of 200 hits; Pete Rose who, apart from being one of the worst MLB black eyes of the pre-steroid era, was kind of good at the whole baseball thing. Oh, and he didn’t do it in consecutive seasons like Ichiro has (remember this streak is still going on in 2011). You want more? In each of those seasons Ichiro has paired a golden glove award with the offensive prowess. We’re not talking a “Derek Jeter Hell Must Have Frozen Over” memorial golden glove here either. The saber metrics nerds (who despise ‘ol number two) love Ichiro, and even gave him his third “Fielding Bible Award” in 2010. On top of that, he’s humble, like ridiculously so. After being a relative baseball god in Japan (where his offensive totals have him over a combined 3,500 professional hits) the man randomly received Randy Johnson’s old number when he first got on with the Mariners as a rookie. He so revered Johnson that Ichiro called Big Unit up and assured that, and I quote, “he would not shame the jersey.” Really? On top of that, he’s played nearly every possible game he could (with most of his missed games due to a bleeding ulcer in 2009) and, just for kicks, is a great base runner. Oh, and he endeavors to pay respects to the graves of as many great hitting hall of famers as he can whenever he’s in an area that affords an opportunity. If that’s not respect for the history of the game (something that seems to be lost on just about everyone else in the league) I don’t know what is.
So, 2011 is “Appreciate Ichiro” year (as opposed to “Screw Our Fans With 5 hour long games” year or “Skyrocketing Ticket Prices” year). Spread the word.
In light of trying new sports activities in 2011, here’s something else to pique your interest.
This could be a historically parody filled year in men’s college lacrosse. There are two undefeated teams still standing in Syracuse and Notre Dame but hardly either has looked particularly dominant. Outside of that, everyone seems to be beating everyone else. The ACC is typically strong, but even those teams have seen losses to up and coming programs like UPenn and Ohio State. Johns Hopkins started slow with an ugly loss to Princeton (one of the Tiger’s two wins) but since then has knocked off two of the ACC powers and got as close to beating Syracuse without actually, you know, winning. Speaking of the Quakers and the Tigers, the Ivy is looking particular good top-to-bottom with no dominant team but 3 or 4 of them hovering in the top 20. On top of that we saw the Irish break in to the Final Four and the Finals last year for the first time ever and we’ve seen teams like UMass and Stony Brook come on strong in the past few seasons. Both of those teams have struggled recently but they should be the teams to beat in their respective conferences down the stretch. A couple of others to watch are Army (upset Syracuse in the first round last year), Villanova (they’re 2-3 against the top 20 this year in a tough schedule and undefeated against the rest) and Hofstra (an always tough Long Island team that will probably head in to the tournament without a top 10 team on their resume). If you’re looking for another sport to get into in May as the dog days of summer start to creep up (NCAA lacrosse plays its tournament throughout May), this is a good one to start with.
Lastly, that was a terrible way to end the 2011 NCAA tournament. It was ugly, slow, boring, lacked any discernable display of good basketball skill and essentially sent the game back to the days of tighty whitey shorts and guys named Doggie Julian (1947 men’s championship, look it up) coaching the games. Seriously, it was awful. That shouldn’t take away from what was undeniably a great tournament, with more parody, great games and sub-plots than you could shake a stick at (this is me sticking with the whole pre shot-clock era theme). Who cares if the talent pool is diluted? Who cares if it allows more teams like Butler and VCU to make deep runs? It’s the NCAA tournament. They’re NCAA student-athletes, it’s supposed to be focused on more guys who stick around and graduate (Kemba Walker) rather than future NBA drug add-, I mean firearm carr-, I mean All Stars. Enjoy the fun people. You’re only other option is one and a half months of playoffs in “that league David Stern sucked all the passion out of,” or the Euro-League…guh.
That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for: “One upside down car caught on camera UConn?! Come on…,” “HBO just announced its miniseries about the 2011 MLB Season. It’s called Boston Is Burning…and Elijah Wood will be playing Dustin Pedroia,” and “The Neighborhood Halfwits invade Flipadelphia (http://flipadelphiaevent.tumblr.com/) this weekend! You have been warned…”