Ichiro Suzuki is a beef tongue enthusiast. He likes it so much that the owner of a Japanese grocery store in Seattle is stocking up on the tasty treat. In fact, Ichiro recently gave the proprietor a list of his favorite Japanese delicacies. Soon the major leaguer will be drinking Pocari Sweat, chewing BlackBlack gum and dunking Men’s Pocky into his Boss coffee right there in Seattle.
The following information was provided by a Japanese sports daily. And you thought Japanese sports dailies only provided useless pieces of information.
When Ichiro moved to Seattle last month, a small army of reporters and photographers from Japan moved there with him. Their job is simple: to trace his every move. When “Batboy” goes to work, they go with him. When he’s at the ballpark, they’re at the ballpark. When he visits the john . . . well, you get the idea.
“They write every day, which is difficult,” Ichiro said recently. “So I meet with them every day. This is one area that I get a little stressed out.”
Great! Spring training hasn’t even started and the Seattle Mariners’ newcomer is already feeling stressed out.
News flash: We don’t need to know every last thing about his adjustment in America. It’s definitely an interesting story, and I’m not blaming media outlets for sending reporters to cover it. But they should let up a little, at least until April 2 when the season starts. There’s a reason why they call this time of year the “off-season.”
My worry is that as the upcoming season progresses, the media hype will spiral out of control. If Ichiro thinks he’s stressed now, he ain’t seen nothin’ yet. When Roger Maris was chasing Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record, the stress brought on by the media made his hair fall out. Had the aggressive Japanese media — which values overkill, for some odd reason — been around, Maris’ head would’ve exploded.
Every Mariners home game this season will be televised live in Japan. The media will be there every step of the way. If Ichiro wants advice, he can turn to Hideo Nomo and the other Japanese pitchers who have been down this road before. The only problem is that Ichiro is a bigger star than his predecessors. None of them can truly fathom how intrusive the media blitz will be.
Ichiro is going to have a harder adjustment than Nomo and Co. had during their rookie seasons. For one thing, the former Orix BlueWave outfielder is an every-day player. That means the Japanese media will be reporting on his performances EVERY DAY. There will be a barrage of questions — “What was it like facing Roger Clemens?” “Do you have a message for your fans in Japan?” “Where are you going tonight for beef tongue?” — after each game. Escaping the media glare by hiding in the bullpen four out of every five games isn’t an option.
Ichiro will also have a tougher time because he’s facing a steeper learning curve. It’s going to take him a while to get used to the stuff pitchers throw his way. He’s never faced the likes of a Randy Johnson heater in a regular-season game before. It was easy for Japanese hurlers to succeed instantly in the majors because they were unknown quantities at the time. As a hitter, Ichiro will be the one initially disadvantaged.
I wonder how the Japanese media will react if he struggles at any point during the season. Looking at the way they treat foreign ballplayers in Japan, the outlook is ominous. Gaijin players are grilled by the local media if they don’t produce gold out of straw by June. And sometimes they’re grilled even when they do. Will Japan’s favorite son be subjected to the same standards now that HE’S the gaijin?
No doubt Ichiro is used to being under the microscope. After games in Japan, the 27-year-old was usually swarmed by reporters, and his off-the-field exploits have been documented, too. But he doesn’t seem to fancy that part of stardom. When an affair the outfielder had right before getting married became public knowledge in January, he fled to the U.S. with his wife for an early arrival. Like good little soldiers, the media never left his sight.
Just about everyone on these shores is rooting for No. 51 to succeed. But if the media continues to get in the way, they could become part of the story. It’s time sports editors laid off Ichiro and gave him room to adjust. He has enough on his plate these days — a different brand of baseball, new teammates, a new culture.
But for the hounds that track his footprints, Ichiro is loving his experience so far. Mariners fans have taken to the newest face in town, and he’s bonded with many teammates already. The media now need to be a little less carnivorous and ask themselves: Who cares about beef tongue?