SAN DIEGO -- Forty-two-year-old baseball superstar Ichiro Suzuki of the Miami Marlins has set yet another landmark record.
On June 15 local time, Ichiro came to bat in the ninth inning of a game versus the San Diego Padres needing just one more hit to reach 4,257 and pass legend Pete Rose for the most hits in baseball history. And pass Rose he did, smacking a 2-1 pitch into the right field corner for a double.
The fans and his Marlins teammates cheered as the video scoreboard at Petco Park displayed Ichiro's accomplishment -- achieved with 1,278 hits in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) and 2,979 in the major leagues -- and the veteran doffed his helmet to the appreciative crowd.
"Because it's a combined Japan-U.S. figure, I knew some people would be stingy about it no matter what," Ichiro said after the game, a 6-3 loss to the hometown Padres.
A few days before, Pete Rose had told the U.S. media, "It sounds like in Japan they're trying to make me the Hit Queen (instead of the hit king). I'm not trying to take anything away from Ichiro, he's had a Hall of Fame career, but the next thing you know, they'll be counting his high-school hits." It seems that Ichiro knew of the comments, and told reporters on June 15, "It would be completely different if Rose was happy for me. But then I've heard that's not the case, so I guess you could say I'm not interested in that."
Ichiro is being celebrated for his brilliant achievement, but he revealed after the Padres game, "I'm very proud that I've always been able to achieve things even though people have laughed at me since I was a boy." With dreams of becoming a professional ball player, Ichiro practiced relentlessly as a child. However, he says that those around him sneered at his ambitions, saying, "Does that kid really think he can be a pro?"
Nevertheless, he appeared in the National High School Baseball Championship for Aikodai Meiden High School, and was drafted fourth overall by the Orix Blue Wave NPB club in 1991. He made his debut with the team in 1994, logging the first of what was to be a long string of 200-hit seasons and launching what was to be a superstar career on both sides of the Pacific.
He made the jump to Major League Baseball in 2001 when he joined the Seattle Mariners. He immediately set a goal of topping MLB in hits, but felt no one around him was taking him seriously. Three years later, Ichiro broke an 84-year-old MLB record for hits in a season with 262.
After the June 15 game, Ichiro was asked if it would be possible to push his major league hit total over 4,256 and erase any uncertainty over who was baseball's real hit king. Ichiro replied, "I have a frustrating history of always being laughed at, and I keep that inside me. So of course I think about clearing that hurdle." The veteran has already said he wants to still be playing when he's 50, and there should be no one left willing to laugh at his goals.