Path to a legendary record

© The Yomiuri Shimbun

In 2016, Ichiro marked two major milestones in his career.
He reached 4,257 career hits, surpassing the major league record.
He also chalked up his 3,000th hit in the majors.

But Ichiro did not appear to be destined for greatness when he started his baseball career.

Ichiro Suzuki of Aikodai Meiden High School delivers a pitch against Matsusho Gakuen High School during the National Invitational High School Championship at Koshien Stadium in March 1991. He held Matsusho Gakuen to three runs but lost the game. He was not yet known simply as Ichiro.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, Suzuki looks up to the sky after grounding out in the final play of his team’s loss.

Suzuki lines up with his teammates after the game.

Suzuki celebrates after hitting a two-run homer against Chukyo High School during an Aichi Prefecture preliminary game of the National High School Baseball Championship in July 1991.

In 1992, Suzuki joins Orix BlueWave as the No. 4 draft pick.

“His bat control is sensational. He can do well as a pro if he builds up his strength,” a scout said, adding Ichiro would make the top team roster “in four or five years.” Orix BlueWave had already detected his talent as a batter.

In August 1993, The Yomiuri Shimbun printed its first large article about Suzuki. He was described as “a big shot in the farm team.”

In 1994, he changed his registered name from Ichiro Suzuki to Ichiro and cemented his position in Orix’s top team. And then...

In 1994, Ichiro becomes the first player in Japanese pro baseball history to reach 200 hits in a single season.

Ichiro acknowledges the fans while holding a sign to commemorate his 200th hit of the season at Green Stadium Kobe on Sept. 20, 1994. “I am so glad. I’m relieved,” Ichiro said.

As 1995 MVP winner, Ichiro poses for a photo with teammate Masafumi Hirai, the 1995 Pacific League rookie of the year.

Ichiro sits inside a sake barrel during the party to celebrate Orix’s Japan Series victory in 1996.

MVP in 1994
“[My success this year] doesn’t seem like something I could do.”
MVP in 1995
“After going through some tough times, I achieved more success than I expected. I am happy my efforts have been recognized.”
MVP in 1996
“Compared to the past two years, I strongly feel that the entire team played together this year. I wonder if it’s fair that only I get this award.”

In 1999, while still with Orix, Ichiro participated in the spring training camp of the Seattle Mariners, which he had eagerly wanted to do. A story on Ichiro playing in his preseason “debut” match in the majors was carried on the front page of The Yomiuri Shimbun’s evening edition.

“The true reason I came here was to find out whether I have the ability to play” in the majors.

During a game at Tokyo Dome on April 20, 1999, Ichiro becomes the fastest player to reach 1,000 hits. “I am grateful I could concentrate even in conditions where it was difficult to do so,” he said. It was rare for Ichiro to praise his own batting. In 2000, he won the batting title for the seventh season in a row.

In 2000, Ichiro announces he would try to play in the majors.

Ichiro and the Mariners agree to a three-year, ¥1.5 billion contract. The Mariners welcomed Ichiro with a generous salary package befitting Japan’s top batter.

“I don’t think I have achieved my dream just by joining the Mariners. My dream will be realized for the first time if I am able to play through the whole season.”

Ichiro got his first hit in his debut match at Safeco Field on April 2, 2001. “Today is a day I will never forget. I feel a joy unlike any other I have ever felt before.”

In his first year in the U.S. majors, Ichiro won the batting title with a .350 average, breaking the rookie record for most hits in a season for the first time in 90 years. He was named American League MVP and won the Rookie of the Year Award, the stolen base crown and a Gold Glove Award.

“I don’t want to be an ordinary player. I need to become a player who not only pleases the fans, but also makes the players on my team and opposing teams happy.”

Ichiro records the 2,000th hit of his career at Safeco Field on May 21, 2004. He received generous applause from the stands while he stood on first base. “It surprised me. Some people may think my achievements in Japan are only something recognized in Japan. It was moving to see people cheering in that way today.”

In 2004, Ichiro broke the MLB record for most hits in a season, a record that had stood for 84 years. The driving force behind Ichiro’s hitting is the fact that “I like baseball,” he says. Ichiro rapped out 262 hits this season./p>

Ichiro’s wife, Yumiko, issued a comment about his record. It was carried in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Oct. 4, 2004.

The front page of a Yomiuri Shimbun edition reports that Ichiro hit an inside-the-park home run during the 2007 All-Star game in San Francisco — the first such home run in the game’s history. Ichiro became the first Japanese player to earn All-Star Game MVP honors.

“As a person living in a competitive world, I always want to be No. 1,” Ichiro says to Isao Harimoto, right, at Safeco Field on April 16, 2009. This year, Ichiro marked his 3,086th hit in his professional career in Japan and the United States, breaking the Japanese professional hit record held by Harimoto. “The view from the summit was bright and wonderful,” Ichiro says.

A passerby receives an extra edition of The Yomiuri Shimbun issued after Ichiro became the first player in major league history to reach 200 hits for nine straight seasons, renewing the record for the first time in 108 years. He achieved this feat at Rangers Ballpark on Sept. 13, 2009.

In July 2012, Ichiro makes a stunning announcement that he is moving to the world-famous New York Yankees after spending 11 years as a pivotal player with the Mariners.

Ichiro smiles and waves to fans at Yankee Stadium after recording his 4,000th career hit in Japan and the United States on Aug. 21, 2013.

In 2015, Ichiro signs a one-year contract with the Miami Marlins. “The most important thing to me is to be needed as a player. That serves as a great motivation,” he says.

In 2015, Ichiro makes his first pitching appearance in his MLB career in the Marlins’ regular-season finale. Although he struggled to a .229 average this season, he played in 153 games as a reserve outfielder for the team.“I could hardly believe my numbers myself. But there were many things I achieved.”

Ichiro receives the second base during a ceremony at Marlins Park, following the game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park on June 15, 2016, when he raised his combined career hit total to 4,257, surpassing Pete Rose’s MLB record. The base was the one he stepped on after marking the record.

On Aug. 7, 2016, Ichiro delivers a triple against the Colorado Rockies in Denver, marking his 3,000th career hit in the major leagues. Ichiro became the 30th MLB player to achieve the milestone.

At a press conference after marking his 4,257th hit, Ichiro says: “Since I was a child, I’ve always achieved things that people laughed at me for trying. I take pride in that. When I was in primary school, I had baseball training every day. Some of my neighbors saw me and said with a laugh, ‘Does he really think he’s going to be a professional baseball player?’”
“When I moved to the United States to play in the majors, I said, ‘I want to be a leading hitter.’ Again, people laughed at me.”

© The Yomiuri Shimbun
Some of the pictures in this series can be purchased at Yomiuri Hochi Shashinkan photo archive (Japanese only).