When Ichiro Suzuki got his first professional hit with Japan's Orix BlueWave 19 years ago, he never thought he'd get to 4,000.
Ichiro Suzuki joins the Yankees after playing for the Mariners his entire career.
Fast forward to 2013 and with the New York Yankees. Suzuki has played 12 years in the MLB, the first 11 with the Seattle Mariners, and the past year with the most valuable franchise in the league. Along the way, he has been named an All-Star ten times, gotten three Silver Slugger awards, and set the single-season record for hits, with 262.
Of course, there's the little matter of not hitting all of his 4,000 in the MLB.
From 1992 to 2000, Suzuki played in the Nippon Professional Baseball circuit, setting a league record of 210 hits in 1994. While his swing - more similar to swordplay than slugging - was at first regarded as ineffective, he quickly became a household name. By 1998, after playing in an exhibition series between Japanese pros and MLB stars, including Sammy Sosa, Suzuki was allowed to negotiate with the Mariners, the first Japanese player in the Major League who was not a pitcher. While his hitting was always spot-on, his throwing arm was a pleasant surprise to observers, who were skeptical of his slight frame.
It was in 2004 when Suzuki first reset the record books by getting 262 hits, a feat that stands up to this day. In one three-year period, from 2001 to 2004, he already had 924; he followed it up with a 930-hit performance between 2004 and 2007, batting over .450 in one 56-game stretch. By this time, he had 200 hits in eight straight seasons, tying Wee Willie Keller's 107-year-old record.
Granted, Suzuki's feats in MLB play (2,722 career hits) are remarkable, but some people are less than impressed.
"I had a few hits in little league about 30 years ago. Can I also apply those to my MLB total?" asks Art-Lucy Gutierrez in the ESPN comments field.
"Sorry guys, while I will be the first to admit he has been a great player, hits from Japan don't count. Can't believe anyone wants to count them, don't believe Japan league has been part of MLB," chimes in Earl Jackson from Ohio.
Suzuki himself downplayed the significance of his achievements.
""It is a record that is adding two leagues into one; those guys did it in one league," Ichiro said. "I don't think you have to put me in that same category as them."
Many feel that for all of Suzki's accomplishments, this latest record will be hollow, unless he hits 3,000 in the Major League.
"Nobody will say anything about 3,000," Suzuki told USA Today through an interpreter. "There will be no debating about that."
"After I got my first hit, at that point, if I would've said to you guys my goal is to have 4,000 hits, I think everybody would've called me an idiot, but now after just years and years of just getting hits every day, I've come to this point," he emphasised before suiting up for Wednesday's game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Suzuki finished 1-for-4 in a 4-2 win.
The 39-year-old slugger might just have enough left in his tank to surpass both Pete Rose and Ty Cobb, the only other players who have breached the 4,000-hit mark. Rose is the record holder, with 4,256 career hits.
"It's not a goal that I have; it's not a number that I'm looking at," Suzuki said. "I'm just coming to the ballpark every day, seeing if I'm in the lineup. I want to keep my skills up so that I'm in the lineup so I can perform and do what I can to contribute to this team."
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