Ichiro Suzuki retired from Major League Baseball in March, but over the weekend he showed he’ll never, ever be done with baseball.
The Kyodo News reported that Ichiro suited up for an amateur team of local Kobe, Japan, acquaintances and took on the teachers of Chiben Wakayama, a local high school with an excellent baseball program.
Around 3,000 people connected to Chiben Wakayama were in the stands, according to the Kyodo News, and the game attracted a huge media contingent of 80-plus people. The game took place at Hotto Motto Field in Kobe, which is significant for Ichiro. It’s the stadium he first played in when he began his career with the Orix Blue Wave (now the Orix Buffaloes) back in 1992.
Maybe it was the field that inspired Ichiro, or maybe it’s that he’s still a world-class baseball player at age 46. He tossed a 131-pitch complete game, using a rubber ball that’s traditionally used in “kusayakyu,” or neighborhood baseball. He allowed six hits, no runs, no walks and struck out 16. At the plate, he went 3 for 4 with a walk — a very Ichiro day. Ichiro and his team ended up beating the teachers of Chiben Wakayama 14-0.
Ichiro’s team winning seems like a forgone conclusion considering it was a sandlot baseball game and Ichiro is less than a year out from retiring from a career that spanned two leagues in two countries and lasted for 28 seasons. Regardless of the outcome, he was clearly thrilled to be out there playing again. Via the Kyodo News:
"I can still make it work," Suzuki said after his 131-pitch game. "No problems at all regarding either my elbow or shoulder.
"It was a blast."
The coach of the Chiben Wakayama teachers, Kiyoshi Fujita, was honest about his team’s chances against a surefire Hall of Famer who was both hitting and pitching: “Sandlot players aren't going to hit pitches like that.”
The outcome had no bearing on everyone’s enjoyment of the game, though.
"Every member of our team is going to remember meeting the world-famous Ichiro,” the coach told the Kyodo News. “It really was fun."
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