- Covers MLB for ESPN.com
- Former deputy editor of Page 2
- Been with ESPN.com since 1995
It’s Ichiro Suzuki weekend in Seattle as the Mariners celebrate the franchise icon and induct him into the team’s hall of fame on Saturday night — certainly a prelude to his induction into Cooperstown in a few years. Before Friday’s game, Ichiro was even in uniform, shagging flies in the outfield with rookie phenom Julio Rodriguez.
The festivities kicked off with the first pitch — something teams frequently get wrong with the likes of corporate sponsors, local politicians or C-list celebrities often receiving first-pitch honors. This time the Mariners got it right.
The first-pitch honoree was Iris Skinner — also known as “Ichiro Girl” for a viral video from years ago when Ichiro chased a foul ball into the right-field stands and collided with Skinner, eliciting a euphoric reaction from her. The hitch: Skinner didn’t know Ichiro would be catching her first pitch. Her joy when Ichiro popped out of the Mariners dugout was palpable.
So, good job, Mariners. It’s hard to believe, but Ichiro’s Rookie of the Year and MVP season way back in 2001 was the last time the Mariners made the playoffs. For too long, Mariners fans have had too little to cheer for, and the nostalgia for that record-breaking 2001 team that won 116 games has only grown with each succeeding non-playoff season. This year’s club has a real chance to finally end that postseason drought — and Rodriguez’s mega-contract extension signals the Mariners finally have a new icon for the fan base to rally around.
Skinner’s first pitch was a lovely baseball moment, a reminder of how fans make personal connections with the teams and players they root for. But hopefully Ichiro’s Hall of Fame ceremony will tie the bow on 2001. Mariners fans need new memories.
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