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Ichiro joins 3,000 hit club

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Outfielder becomes 30th to reach MLB milestone

With a triple off the wall at Coors Field in Denver, Ichiro Suzuki became the latest and perhaps the most unlikely member of Major League Baseball's exclusive 3,000 hit club; unlikely not because of his talents he has always shown himself more than capable of racking up base hits but because of his circumstances.

Ichiro didn't come to MLB until he joined the Seattle Mariners for the 2001 season. He was 27 years old, a nine-year veteran of Nippon Professional Baseball's Orix Blue Wave, when he came to MLB. His resume included 1,278 hits and 199 steals in NPB when he landed stateside with no way of knowing if his skills would translate on this side of the Pacific.

Boy, did they ever.

That 2001 season was one for the ages. Ichiro won both the AL Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in a year when he batted .350 with 242 hits; he also stole 56 bases and won the first of 10 straight Gold Gloves.

From there, he was off to the races and making up for lost time. He set the record for most hits in a season (262) in 2004 and batted .350 or better four times along the way. To go with his 3,000 hits, Ichiro scored 1,379 runs and stole 507 bases. He is only the second MLB player (after Pete Rose) to record at least 3,000 hits after turning 27.

(Speaking of Rose, there are those who would argue that Ichiro's Japanese hit total should be added to his MLB numbers, which would allow him to supplant Rose as baseball's Hit King. It's nonsense, of course I find Rose as distasteful as most, but there's no fair way to equate Ichiro's work in the competitively-inferior NPB to Rose's total. Still, 4,278 professional hits is a staggering number no matter how you slice it.)

There's still room for Ichiro to climb MLB's all-time leaderboard in a couple of spots. He's 21 runs scored away from 1,400 for his career. He's got a slight chance at making the all-time top-30 in steals he's 30 away. And as for the hits, well he could really make a move. Tied for 29th currently, he's just 24 hits away from a spot in the top 25.

Granted, the guy is 42 years old, but he claims to want to play until he's 50. Sounds crazy, but when you look at this year's numbers, he's having a bit of a renaissance season, batting .317 as a fourth outfielder/pinch-hitter for the Marlins. Maybe he could do it and if he does, who knows where he'll wind up landing on the game's all-time leaderboards.

One things for certain he is beloved within the game. While he is notoriously reticent with the press, choosing to speak only through a translator, stories abound about Ichiro's personable interactions with his fellow players. His fluency in both English and Spanish cursewords has delighted teammates and opponents alike for years; in particular, his All-Star Game pep talks riddled with pitch-perfect English swearing are legendary.

MLB is better for having had Ichiro Suzuki in it. Not only did he prove that Japanese position players could thrive in the major leagues, but he did it on his own terms, playing the game in the way he saw fit regardless of what others were doing.

Congratulations, Ichiro. Keep on swinging.


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