Ichiro Suzuki never says a word to the throng of Japanese reporters and photographers waiting for him when he steps out of his Porsche and briskly walks past on his way to the Marlins clubhouse each morning.
The custom-designed T-shirts worn by the Japanese baseball icon — each one bearing an original saying that changes daily — do all the talking. On Saturday, his media contingent spoke back by wearing T-shirts with a message of their own.
“We can be persistent, too,” their identical shirts read in Japanese lettering.
The Japanese baseball legend applauded their ingenuity.
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“I think it’s great to have that communicating relationship with the media,” Suzuki said. “I think it’s good to have something that you can laugh at.”
The ritual started last spring training when Shizuka Minami, a still photographer for the Kyodo News wire service, was among the first to notice that Suzuki was arriving to Marlins camp wearing a different T-shirt every day.
The shirts contained simple inscriptions meant to express humor, such as “I have a good arm, too,” or “I just want to eat meat.”
She’d dutifully photograph Suzuki and his shirts and immediately file the pictures back to Japan. Before long, it turned into a national craze, with fans of the baseball superstar waiting up as late as 10 p.m. to see what new message each day would bring.
“I kept shooting and shooting,” Minami said.
Said Brad Lefton of Japanese television network NFK: “He’s an entertainer. He gets the entertainment part.”
The daily ritual continued this spring.
Minami and her fellow Japanese journalists stand in a line near the Marlins clubhouse, waiting for Suzuki to show up — usually around 8:30 a.m. The moment Suzuki walks into view, they begin taking pictures, then rush back inside the media room to send the photos back to Japan as quickly as possible.
Saturday, the reporters and photographers decided to have some fun with it, designing their own T-shirts that Suzuki would see when he showed up for work. If the reporters are thinking about keeping up with Suzuki, though, they better think again.
“I probably have over 100 T-shirts,” Suzuki said with a smile.