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Published:September 16th, 2009 16:59 EST
Ichiro's Records and Japanese Reactions

Ichiro's Records and Japanese Reactions

By Geoff Dean

 If one turns on the TV in Japan on a weekday morning during the baseball season, more often than not, one can find Major League Baseball on the tube. Sometimes, it is the Yankees of Matsui or the Red Sox of Matsuzaka, but most of the time it is the Seattle Mariners. Whether they are having a good season or a poor one, they are on the tube, day after day. I`m sure Ichiro`s presence (as well as catcher, Kenji Jojima and Manager Wakamatsu) has nothing to do with this glut of Pacific Northwest coverage but as a result, many Japanese housewives are repositories of vast stores of Mariners trivia. Who was the third pitcher in the Mariners starting rotation in 2004? Don`t know? Neither do I. I`m not a Japanese housewife, either.

 I find it interesting to go back and forth between the commentary piped in from the states and the local Japanese one. The American broadcasters go into great detail about the baseball game and everything else. The best hot dog stand in the stadium. The weather on opening day three years ago. Somebody`s wife and somebody`s kids. Something totally random and unrelated that a particular play happened to remind the announcers of.

 Japanese announcers go into detail, as well. After all, this is a baseball game. There is a lot of air time to fill and little action to fill it. The announcers provide a lot of information about, well, Ichiro. Want to know what he ate for breakfast, when he woke up, how early he got to the stadium, etc.? Listen to the Japanese broadcast. You might almost swear that he didn`t have any teammates.The camera also tends to focus in on, well, Ichiro. Ichiro batting. Ichiro fielding. Ichiro sitting on the bench, daydreaming. Ichiro scratching himself. Ichiro...OK, I guess I can stop now.

 Japanese announcers do NOT mention two things, however. Never.

 One unmentionable is that Ichiro, in Japan, played for an unfashionable baseball team (I`ll leave out the name since I forgot it-that`s how unfashionable the team was) in the unfashionable Pacific League. In Japan, there is one fashionable league, the Central League and one fashionable team in that league, the Yomiuri Giants (Tokyo). They are owned by the Yomiuri Newspaper chain, which, surprise, surprise, gives them almost unlimited coverage. They also have a massive financial advantage which means that any players that become successful on other teams are quickly bought up by the Giants. If morning baseball means the Mariners, evening baseball means the Giants, almost exclusively. Most of the Japanese players in America (Matsui is the exception) were stars on teams other than the Giants, meaning they toiled in almost absolute obscurity. The extremely successful Ichiro was no exception. He was virtually unknown until he arrived in Seattle.

 The other unmentionable is that when Ichiro went to America, he was villified. He had turned his back on his homeland and team. Most pundits said he would fail against superior American competition and bring disgrace to Japan. And he would be back soon, tail between his legs, begging for a spot on some unfashionable team again. It wasn`t until he gained success and records started to fall that he became a Japanese hero.

 Ichiro owes a debt of gratitude to the inept state of Japanese baseball that prodded him to leave and become world famous. And we owe a debt of gratitude to Ichiro for blazing the way for the many players who will follow in his footsteps. And as for the Yomiuri Giants, well, no one owes them anything.