When the Marlins’ Ichiro Suzuki gets his 3,000th hit, it will make baseball and Marlins Park history, and some diehard Ichiro fans are going to great lengths not to miss the moment.
Akihiro Kado watches every Marlins game from Japan, where he is an advertising account executive for amazon.com, just to see Ichiro. The games start at 7 a.m. local time there.
But watching on TV wasn’t good enough for a moment like this for Kado. He has been following the team from its recent road trip to Philadelphia to its homestand and will go to Chicago for its next road trip against the Cubs if need be.
“When Ichiro got his 2,000th hit, I saw it on TV,” Kado said. “I didn’t like that. So I decided to see his 3,000th hit here.”
Ichiro went 0 for 4 on Friday night against the Cardinals and remains two hits shy of 3,000.
Kado has a job and a family in Japan. He said his wife, two daughters, co-workers and boss all let him take this trip. They know what a big Ichiro fan he is. He said the entire trip is costing him about $3,000.
Evan Kleeger only owns one Marlins jersey with a name on it. The white jersey has Ichiro’s No. 51 on the back. He goes to Marlins games occasionally, but he said he will drive down from Boca Raton for every game until Ichiro gets No. 3,000.
He gets to the games two hours before they start and tries to get Ichiro’s attention.
“I’m really trying to get his autograph, but I’m so respectful of him. I want to be polite and not interrupt him,” Kleeger said.
Kleeger knows when he makes the drive from Boca Raton that Ichiro will probably not be in the starting lineup and might not even get an at-bat. But it means so much to him to be there to witness history that he finds that journey worth it.
Julio Rodriguez of Miami Lakes is a season-ticket holder. He calls Ichiro “a living legend” and says “we love him here in Miami.”
He gets to the stadium at 4:30 before the gates open to the public to watch warmups and batting practice and to get autographs. It’s a privilege for members of the Fish Family, the name given to Marlins season-ticket holders.
Dominguez also stays an hour and a half after the games to get autographs as the players are leaving.
Rodriguez watches Ichiro hit towering home runs in batting practice and his athletic catches in pregame warmups. The pride in his voice when he talks about Ichiro is audible.
“The guy is a highlight reel,” Rodriguez said. “Unbelievable. Unbelievable.”
Kado, Kleeger and Rodriguez are not the only people excited about Ichiro’s soon-to-be accomplishment. When Ichiro comes to bat, the tri-syllabic “I-CHI-RO” chants often mark the loudest that Marlins Park gets the entire game.
Ichiro came into this 10-game homestand with 2,996 hits, just four shy of the milestone number of 3,000, a feat only 29 players in Major League Baseball history have achieved.
He got two starts and five pinch-hit at-bats in the first eight games at Marlins Park and recorded two hits.
With two games left at home, Marlins fans will be hoping more than ever for Ichiro to get hits. Of Ichiro achieving his feat in front of the home fans, manager Don Mattingly said: “It would be really nice. For the fans, for him to be able to do it here, would certainly be something you like.”
Signs for Ichiro are becoming more present, as are the large Ichiro heads that fans are holding up. The Marlins’ tweet announcing that Ichiro would be starting Friday night’s game received more than 1,200 retweets and 1,300 likes in the first 18 hours after it was posted.
The Ichiro hit counter screen in the right-field stands of Marlins Park continues to rise and creep ever closer to 3,000.
Marlins fans, Ichiro fans, baseball fans all want to be a part of the moment when it happens.