RIP Ichiro's Mariners Career, Gone But Never Forgotten (Even If He Plays for the Yankees Now)

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My colleague Matt Driscoll pissed all over the fresh dirt atop Ichiro's Mariners grave yesterday, but he and other haters are quick to forget Ichiro's incomparable brilliance as a ballplayer and fascinating eccentricities as a human being.

Yesterday's trade news hit like one of those rare thunderclaps Seattle has been experiencing these past few weeks. Even Ichiro's biggest fans had no illusions that this season would likely be his last in Seattle. Then suddenly, on an unseasonably chilly summer day, Ichiro was wearing a shade of Yankee gray in Safeco Field that was the same as the overcast sky.

Emotions ran the gamut from elated (no messy offseason contract dispute, young guys get to play sooner), to deflated (our future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and all-time great now plays for the evil empire). But when Ichiro strode to the plate in the top of the third inning to a resounding applause, offered a perfectly charming bow, and promptly hammered a line drive single up the middle, only the most bitter M's fan couldn't help but crack a smile.

Of course Ichiro got a base hit. Of course he stole second base. The man is a God. Not the God, but some sort of semi-mortal deity that has effortless grace and expected luck. The rumor that he could hit 30 homeruns if he really tried always sounded so plausible. He came to be resented by some for his perceived pursuit of individual glory, but baseball is an inherently selfish game. For 10 consecutive years, his performance was consistently brilliant on teams that were typically abysmal. Watching his skills decline these past two years was painfully humanizing.

Naturally, Ichiro will hit .400 for the rest of the year, and make some key defensive plays en route to another Yankees championship. That's a given. Anybody who doubts it need only look at Raul IbaƱez and all the other supposedly washed up Mariners veterans who somehow found something left in the tank on another team.

The polar opposite of A-Rod's sellout treachery, Ichiro to the Yankees is sadly fitting. The Mariners front office made it known immediately that he asked to be traded, and it made sense on many levels. (Considering how much everybody talks about the way his rookie countryman Muneori Kawasaki puppy dogs after his idol, one wonders if Ichiro asked for the trade simply to get the hell away; Or if Jack Z felt the need to make amends for the Montero-Pineda swap by putting his aging star out to pasture on a World Series contender.)

Regardless of how Ichiro's career ends, he will not be forgotten in Seattle anytime soon. During a portion of yesterday's TV broadcast, fans could send a text message describing their favorite Ichiro moment and it would scroll across the bottom of the screen. It was a much-needed reminder of just how incomparable Ichiro's careeer has been.

There was Dave Niehaus describing Ichiro's legendary put out of Jermaine Dye in 2001 as "like something outta Star Wars." There was Ichiro's inside the park homerun in the All-Star game. There was the guy who spouted eminently quotable quotes like, "I hope he arouses the fire that's dormant in the innermost recesses of my soul. I plan to face him with the zeal of a challenger." There was the guy who broke George Sisler's 84-year-old record for hits in a season, then visited the man's grave on a road trip through St. Louis. There was the famously childish love of profanity, both in pre-game pep talks and describing the weather in Kansas City. There was the compassionate soul who donated more than 100 million yen to Japanese tsunami victims.

Yesterday's game proved, yet again, that Ichiro is the immortal combination of great athlete and compelling person.

 
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