After baseball superstar Ichiro Suzuki recently broke the record of most hits in baseball history, the Mainichi Shimbun spoke with Hiroki Kokubo, Ichiro's contemporary and the manager of Japan's national team, for his reflections on his meetings with the Miami Marlins outfielder.
Kokubo: "4,257 hits ... Even though I am also in the world of baseball, it is such a large number that it is hard to grasp.
I have an unforgettable memory of Ichiro. In 1995, when I was in my second year as a pro, I became the top homerun hitter in the Pacific League, and I got a big head. Due to that, in the 1996 season I did awfully. Meanwhile, Ichiro was barreling forward, making it his third straight year as a batting champion.
At that year's All-Star Game, as Ichiro and I were practicing running in the outfield, I asked him, 'Has your motivation ever fallen?' Ichiro looked me in the eye and asked, 'Are you just playing baseball to leave behind records?' He continued, 'I have inside me a rock I want to polish. Through baseball, I want to make it shine.'
My face went red for having asked such an embarrassing question. From his answer I obtained the idea of polishing my inner self through baseball.
Since then, when I go to eat with him, I take a notebook with me where I write down the things he says that stick with me. For example, 'preparation for preparation.' That's making preparations for the preparations you make. This is why Ichiro is that much in control of himself even now, though he's no longer on the regular roster, when he suddenly appears in a game he can still hit well. He must have a great inner conflict at no longer being able to always bat in games, but he doesn't let up on his preparations anyway.
People can become humble for the first time when they meet someone toward whom they think, 'I can't beat this person.' Ichiro is two years younger than me, but to me he is that person I can't beat.
I am now the manager for the national team Samurai Japan. I can't say if Ichiro will be on the team at the World Baseball Classic next year without having a frank talk with him first, but for the sake of Japanese baseball I hope he is. I think that Shohei Otani (of the Nippon-Ham Fighters), Tetsuto Yamada (of the Yakult Swallows) and Yuki Yanagita (of the SoftBank Hawks) would also become aware of their weaknesses and come to think that they can make more of themselves if they talked with Ichiro. Only Ichiro can impress the top players of Japan and raise their level of play yet higher."