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Come to think of it, given everything involved with this ageless outfielder of nearly 44 for the Marlins — ranging from his slew of routines every day for staying in shape mentally, physically and spiritually to his mostly self-taught methods for remaining productive in Major League Baseball regardless of his role as a player — why not 70?
“I didn’t think about any of this when I was 20, but gradually, the more I’ve played, this is something I’ve wanted,” Ichiro said through an interpreter regarding his obsession with longevity during his 17th season in the Major Leagues after nine as a national icon in his native Japan.
This isn’t the same Ichiro who reigned among the most complete players in Major League history for more than a decade in Seattle. He is a pinch-hitter this year with the Marlins, but he has remained effective and fresh enough to head into this weekend’s games in Arizona just two pinch-hits shy of tying John Vander Wal’s 22-year-old record of 28 for a season. Ichiro doesn’t start for the Marlins, because Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and somebody named Giancarlo Stanton comprise the most productive outfield in the Major Leagues.
Such a shame for Ichiro as a creature of repetition. You have to think that as a starter, he would have trended closer this season toward his career batting average of .312 instead of his current mark of .262.
Even so, Ichiro keeps shattering or approaching Major League records despite being on the Marlins’ bench. He passed Derek Jeter in June for most Interleague hits for a career, with his 365th. Days later, he topped Rickey Henderson as the oldest person to start in center. In July, Ichiro managed his 3,054th career hit to zip by Rod Carew for most for a foreign-born player. He already has spent this month setting the Major League record during a season for most pinch-hit at bats and plate appearances.
Yep, I can see it, and so should you. Sticking around the Major Leagues until at least the age of 50 isn’t out of the question for this guy who played 150 or more games during a season 13 times in his career as a starter for the Mariners, Yankees and Marlins.
“I think probably the one point I can say is that we’re all given a certain body, and that body that we’ve been given, well, I’ve been able to keep that right balance that my body can take,” Ichiro said, referring to his slight but solid frame of 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds. “Everybody is different, but I’ve seen a lot of players that when they get outside of their normal balance that their body can take, that’s when usually they get hurt. I’ve seen that a lot. So I think that’s a big point that I’ve been able to use my body, and obviously, it isn’t as if I haven’t been hurt. I’ve been hurt. But I still know what my body can take.”
Durability has been one of Ichiro’s best friends. Then again, there was that stretch during the late 1990s when Ichiro suffered a few physical issues playing in Japan.
“I tried to be like everybody else, and I tried to get big and strong,” Ichiro said of that stretch. “For me, that wasn’t the right way.”
After Ichiro returned to his old training habits in the Pacific League of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan, he rarely left the lineup along the way to seven consecutive batting titles that produced All-Star Game trips and Gold Gloves Award each of those years and three MVP awards. The accolades kept coming for Ichiro after he joined the Major Leagues with the Mariners in 2001, as he promptly grabbed the American League Rookie of the Year Award and AL MVP Award honors. He’s been to 10 All-Star Games overall in the Majors while winning 10 Gold Glove Awards.
It all begins and ends with those routines for Ichiro. In fact, let’s review one of his typical days involving home games during the season, and you’re allowed to feel exhausted in the aftermath.
“So I get up about 11 a.m., and then I train at home, because I have my machines back there,” Ichiro said. “Then I eat lunch, and then I train again. Then I come to the ballpark about 3 p.m. [for a 7:10 p.m. game]. After I get to the ballpark, I do the machines I have at the stadium, and then I hit in the cage. Then I do a little more of the machines, and after that, I go to batting practice.”
Oh, Ichiro wasn’t done.
“After we get finished with batting practice, at 6:15 p.m., I go back to the cage, and I hit again. Then right after that, I go back and do the training machines, and at 7:10 p.m., we have the game. I go home after the game, and I’ll eat, and depending on how I feel, I’ll sometimes train at night. Then I’ll get on the machines, and after that, I’ll have a massage. Probably about 3 a.m., I’ll go to bed.
“So that’s my home schedule. On the road, I don’t have my machines, so it’s kind of a normal thing of come to the ballpark, hit and stretch. Do what I can.”
Did I say 70? I meant that Ichiro should aim for 100, and then he should keep going from there, with his machines and all.
Terence Moore is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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