In the end, Ichiro Suzuki was in high spirits.
After setting numerous records, including 4,367 career hits across Japanese pro ball and Major League Baseball, the 45-year-old Seattle Mariner announced his retirement. Having debuted in 1992 -- the fourth year of the Heisei period -- the superstar was a symbol of the three-decade era.
We will no longer be able to see his masterful batting, or his exquisite fielding skills. No doubt more than a few fans are overcome with a sense of loss. But it is Ichiro who said at a news conference after the second game of the MLB opening series between the Mariners and the Oakland Athletics in Tokyo, "How could I possibly have any regrets?"
Ichiro's final on-field turn came in an MLB game played on Japanese soil. Even after it was over, tens of thousands of fans waited for him to re-emerge from the dugout so they could pay their respects to the living baseball legend. Ichiro himself appeared moved by the scene.
According to the private Sasakawa Sports Foundation, since it began Japan's "favorite athletes" survey in 2002, Ichiro has always ranked in the top three. How did he manage to maintain this appeal for such a long time?
His remarkable skills may be at the base of his allure, but it was his stoic approach to baseball that led him to that level of skill that truly captured people's hearts. Furthermore, Ichiro's words had depth and were highly thought-provoking. Many people must have seen their lives in his statements.
"I take pride in the fact that since I was a child, I have accomplished things I was laughed at for trying." It was a remark delivered piquantly by Ichiro when he surpassed Pete Rose's record of 4,256 career hits. Many held the view that Rose's record could not be broken by a Japanese player. But Ichiro smashed that belief to smithereens, through his career spanning both sides of the Pacific.
When Ichiro joined the Miami Marlins, he told a press conference, "In order to remain a player whom fans will support, I promise to keep doing what I must." Then 41 years old, Ichiro indicated that he was intent on continuing to grow.
Last year, he took part in practice with his Mariners teammates, even though he was not eligible to play in games. That must have been difficult emotionally. And yet, he referred to that time as "days that gave birth to simple pride and things no one else could do."
These bits of Ichiro's wisdom, or philosophy, can be interpreted as signposts for life.
Ichiro's dream of playing baseball until he was at least 50 years old did not come true. But we will never forget the 28-year career of a rare superstar who reached the pinnacle of pro baseball success in both Japan and the major leagues.