Numbers mean so much in baseball.
For Ichiro Suzuki last season, the number 3,000 meant a tense path on the way to the hitting milestone, but once reached a monumental place in the sport’s history.
“I felt like more than myself, people around me came up to me truly different,” Ichiro said Saturday after completing team workouts at Roger Dean Stadium. “Just the fact that 3,000 hits was accomplished, I kind of realized it means a lot to them. More than myself, I think a lot of people felt like it was a great accomplishment.”
Ichiro said the impact from that stand-up triple he hit off the right field wall at Colorado’s Coors Field on August 7th, 2016 for No. 3,000 was noticeable on the streets of Japan this offseason.
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According to Ichiro, some fans in his home country have often tagged their cars with license plates displaying the numbers of his major hitting milestones such as 3,000 or even 4,308 which is where his combined hits total between the major leagues and Japan stands entering the 2017 season.
“There are a lot of license plates that changed to the total hits that I had,” Suzuki said. “Moving forward, I hope I can make people change even more license plates.”
As far Ichiro himself, the offseason didn’t change much for the future Hall of Famer.
The Marlins exercised their player option to retain the future Hall of Famer and added an additional $2 million option for next season.
Ichiro, who projects once again to be the Marlins’ fourth outfielder behind Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, hit .291 last year with a home run and 22 RBI in 327 at-bats. Ichiro appeared in 143 games and started 62 of them.
Ichiro said he was glad to be past the added pressure that came with the countdown to 3,000 hits last season with so much attention on his every at-bat.
“I think definitely you had some distractions and the atmosphere is a little different when all that is going,” Ichiro said. “I think in that sense this season will be a little better.
“There was a time leading up to [getting my 3,000th hit] that I really struggled. I was getting a lot of pinch-hit opportunities, but every day was really tough and was a struggle to be honest.”
At 43 years old, Ichiro was the 30th player to surpass the 3,000-hit mark and enters the season ranked 24th on the league’s all-time list with 3,030. With 31 more hits, he can surpass three more Hall of Famers – Rod Carew (3,053), Rickey Henderson (3,055) and Craig Biggio (3,060).
“I’m not sure maybe we should start talking about 4,000 [hits] because on the way to 3,000, he was pretty good,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “Ichiro is a total pro and he loves playing and he’ll be prepared for any situation. For him, it’s not about just trying to hit a milestone.”
BACK IN THE BOX
Mattingly, an All-Star first baseman during his 14-year career with the Yankees, isn’t taking any swings for the Marlins this season. But during Spring Training, he’ll sometimes step into the batter’s box to better evaluate pitchers.
“When I step in with those guys, you kind of see what the ball does and what the look is like,” Mattingly said. “Hopefully, you’re able to add something to it and find a better way to get [hitters] out.”