Ichiro Suzuki 鈴木一朗
At 5'9 (175cm) and 160lb (72.5kg), Ichiro Suzuki is one of Japan's most diminutive, yet most powerful, baseball players, both as a batter and an outfielder. He had set his sights on a professional career before reaching even his teenage years, and was subject to a grueling training regimen by his father.
Even after being admitted to the Pacific League at age 18, his unorthodox swing was considered a handicap by his manager in spite of its obvious effectiveness, and it wasn't until a change of manager two years later that he was released from the farm team and put on, eventually, the lead spot for Orix Blue Wave.
His record-achieving performance earned him the first of the three Pacific League Most Valuable Player awards he would be awarded in the space of three years.
At the same time, he began unconventionally sporting his first name "Ichiro" instead of his surname on his uniform a tactic that attracted the media spotlight and, on the back of his achievements, sparked his propulsion to nationwide fame.
Fame had its flipside, however, and the unprecedented press attention reportedly made everyday life tiresome, to the point of affecting his performance. An initial stint in Seattle with the Seattle Mariners rejuvenated Ichiro, thanks mainly to his new, more relaxed surroundings, and his game recovered.
In 2000, Ichiro formally signed a $14 million contract with the Seattle Mariners, leaving Blue Wave, whose fortunes had slumped, and became the American Major League's first regular position player to have been born in Japan. (Till that time, the only Japanese players in the States had been pitchers.) He soon belied his delicate-looking physique with prodigious displays of throwing power.
2001 was a year of glory for Ichiro in the United States as he clocked up 242 hits: breaking Shoeless Joe Jackson's 1911 record for most ever in a season by a rookie.
However, his best year was 2004, when from August to October he broke no less than eight Major League records, the final one being his number of hits for that season: 262. He was followed daily by a massive team of Japanese reporters numbering about 50.
Ichiro has continued to break American baseball records and was voted onto the 2006 American League All-Star team. His most recent achievement is breaking the American League record of 45 consecutive stolen bases without being caught.
Ichiro lived with his wife Yumiko in Medina, Seattle and has now moved to the New York Yankees.
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