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Ichiro Suzuki is 43 years old, which many would say is still comfortably the prime of his life.
While that may be true, 43 is typically far beyond the prime of a baseball player’s career.
Just don’t tell that to Ichiro.
After 25 seasons in professional baseball, and with 4,308 hits — 1,278 in Japan and another 3,030 in MLB — under his belt, the left-handed hitting machine has no designs on retiring now or anytime soon.
This isn’t an assumption on our part either. It’s based on comments Ichiro made to the Miami Herald on Wednesday, which included the line “I think I’ll die” in regard to when, or maybe we should say if, retirement ever becomes a reality.
At 43, he is the oldest position player in the majors. Only Braves pitcher Bartolo Colon — 51 days his senior — is older among active players. And yet there is no sign of quit in him.
He said he wants to continue playing until he’s 50.
“I’m not joking when I say it,” Ichiro said.
We’re not joking when we say we fully believe that’s his intention. We’re also not joking when we say we believe he’ll be able to pull it off.
There are two things Ichiro has seemingly perfected. The first is slapping the opposing hurler’s best pitch to left field for a hit. The other is his conditioning. Ichiro is always in remarkable shape, and that’s translated to him staying healthy and remaining a productive player.
Granted, his playing time has decreased in recent seasons. He’ll again be the Miami Marlins fourth outfielder this season. And yes, he’s been sidelined this spring due to knee and back ailments. But when the games have counted, he’s yet to look out of place on a major-league field.
In 365 at-bats last season, Ichiro hit 291/.354/.376 with one homer, 15 doubles and five triples. The slugging numbers aren’t impressive, but that’s not necessarily what the Marlins want or need from him. He’s an ace-in-the-hole for manager Don Mattingly who can be used in numerous roles. Until that’s not true, there’s really no reason for Ichiro to consider walking away. And even if that does become true in MLB, Ichiro has previously said that suiting up again in Japan is an option.
As for motivation, that all comes from within. Some might point out that Ichiro can climb inside the top 20 on MLB’s all-time hits list with 86 hits this season. Ichiro just wants to play. It’s that simple.
Maybe his mindset will change down the road. Maybe it won’t. But when you hear a guy say he hasn’t vacationed in 13 years — which Ichiro says he hasn’t — and gets more tired sitting on the couch than working out — which Ichiro did say on Wednesday — then there’s no sense questioning his desire to continue playing.
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