If you can read this, you might be up at 5:30am, fumbling for the remote in the pre-dawn light so as to tune bleary eyes to ESPN for the first game of the 2019 season. The excitement of the big opener is upon us, and already you might be wired from coffee and anticipation.
Steady your cup — this morning Mike Fiers is making his first First Start. What with that 3.56 ERA from last season, Japanese fans are sure to be impressed. At the least, for baseball lovers, this happy “beginning” may ease the sad sunset on King Felix’s Opening Day reign. His crown has passed to Marco Gonzales, an uninspiring lefty with a baby face. Sr. Gonzales, the Mariners turn their lonely eyes to you.
But, no one looks for this match up to be a pitchers’ duel — or even fireworks to kick off a sure-to-be dull season born of a disappointing off-season and underperforming as business strategy. No, really this game is about two things.
The Mormons have looked to Africa to find new converts, but MLB has set its sights on Asia. What better way to highlight the MLB product than a showy opener most Staters won’t be awake to see? But, it’ll be prime time in Japan and that’s the target audience. The internet makes universal viewership possible and all markets are now potential MLB markets.
For the less cynical, here is our chance to celebrate our shared national pastimes and mutual passion for baseball. Our common affinities bring us together, though the ocean separates us. This brings us to the second purpose of the game.
Ichiro makes his final MLB appearance in right field for the Mariners in this short series, and fans in both hemispheres will rise to salute our shared hero. After making his mark in Japanese baseball, Suzuki crossed over to became a bona fide star in MLB. He appeared in ten All-Star games and received ten Golden Gloves to match. Add to that three Silver Sluggers and seven seasons as the league leader in hits. This Hit King (which translates to “Hit Manufacturing Machine” in the Japanese press) ranks first among active players and twenty-third overall with 3,089. He was the first MLB player inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, and he may be the first Japanese HoF’er to join the HoF for MLB. Today, we will watch his playing career end in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Thank you for all the years, Suzuki-san. We are most grateful.
Raise your mugs of java or tea to the great Ichiro, and mix it up over game details in the comments. You’ve awakened to the season’s start, baseball fans.