One by one, Ichiro Suzuki pulled the brand new bats from their shipping container, held the fat ends close to his ear, gave the barrels a light thump with his palm, and listened for the sound — as if each one was a tuning fork.
Those that met his approval were placed in a pile next to his locker, to be used later. Those that didn’t pass the ear test were placed in another, their chance at becoming part of baseball history denied.
“They say that a low tone, when it doesn’t echo — it’s just kind of dull — is no good,” Suzuki said.
One of the bats delivered to Suzuki on Friday could very well be the one that puts him in the record books — both the official and unofficial.
He’s 35 hits away from 3,000, a magical major-league milestone that is receiving the most attention in this country. But before he gets to that mark, he’ll challenge an unofficial one.
Combining his 1,278 hits in Japan with the 2,965 he’s collected in the majors, Suzuki needs only 13 more to tie Pete Rose’s big-league mark of 4,256. It’s becoming a big story in Japan.
“It’s hard to describe,” said Kyodo News sportswriter Keizo Konishi, who has followed Suzuki’s professional career — both in Japan and the U.S. — from day one. “But you can imagine the magnitude.”
Suzuki is fully aware that the Rose mark might not resonate as loudly in the U.S., given that about a third of his hits came in Japan.
“I can also understand some people saying, this is not [a record], you can’t combine the two, and if they say that, I’m OK with that, too,” Suzuki said. “But I truly think if people out there look at what I’ve done and say, ‘Hey, even though it’s combined, what an accomplishment,’ I would be happy and grateful for those comments.”
Suzuki has neither met nor spoken to Rose. He has a baseball signed by Rose that someone gave to him once. He’s seen old video footage of Rose in action and has heard “Charlie Hustle” described as a hard-nosed player who enjoyed the game.
“I think, in this day and age, you don’t see those kinds of players anymore,” Suzuki said. “Today, people look at this as a business, which it is. But back in those days, I think Pete Rose was one of those guys who played the game because he loved it.”
And that’s something Suzuki can truly appreciate.
DIETRICH BRUISED BUT NOT BROKEN
Derek Dietrich wasn’t surprised at how quickly he retuned to the starting lineup for the Marlins, only two days after being drilled in the wrist with a pitch.
“I’m a ‘Man of Steel,’” Dietrich said with a smile.
If you don’t believe him, just ask the students at Auburndale Elementary in his home state of Ohio. They made a mural depicting Dietrich in a Superman cape being struck by a handful of baseballs.
Dietrich had a photo of it on his cell phone.
Dietrich is tied for the league lead in getting hit by pitches with nine, and was struck in the back of the head on Sunday by a foul ball, leaving him dazed but not unconscious.
“I’ve been hit so much, I'm never afraid to get hit,” Dietrich said. “I’m never afraid when I get back in the box.”
▪ Saturday: Marlins LHP Justin Nicolino (2-3, 4.50) vs. New York Mets RHP Bartolo Colon (4-3, 3.39), 4:10 p.m., Marlins Park.
▪ Sunday: Marlins RHP Jose Fernandez (8-2, 2.53) vs. New York Mets RHP Matt Harvey (4-7, 5.37), 1:10 p.m., Marlins Park.