Signing Ichiro in 2001 proved to be a franchise-defining decision for the Mariners
Baseball does not frequently feature players who go by one name. It's also not a sport that frequently features players as dominant as Ichiro.
When the Mariners signed the Japanese outfielder to a three-year contract on Jan. 5, 2001, it began a new era of baseball in the Pacific Northwest. In Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle knew it was getting a premier offensive talent who rose to fame as a standout performer for the Orix Blue Wave before setting his sights on the United States. But what the Mariners also received was a global phenomenon.
Ichiro embarked on his MLB journey with a significant level of hype, but he rose above and blew away those expectations with some next-level achievements on the field.
In his first Opening Day against the A's, he started a two-run, game-tying rally in the seventh with a single up the middle:
In many ways, that was a sign of things to come for Ichiro's time in Seattle. He had four multi-hit games in his first 10 that year, and were it not for an 0-for-4 showing in game No. 2, he'd have begun his first Major League season with a 17-game hitting streak.
He also showed off one of his other assets: an absolute laser arm in right field. Sorry, Terrence Long:
These sorts of eye-popping efforts exemplified Ichiro's rookie season, as he wowed the league with hit after hit and put on a clinic in every facet of the game. He turned that hot start into a spot on the AL All-Star team, suiting up in front of the home crowd at Safeco Field:
As the legend of Ichiro grew, so, too, did his profile. Already bringing a contingent of Japanese media everywhere the Mariners went -- such was Japan's intense interest in his exploits in the United States -- fans couldn't get enough of him either.
They brought signs to home games:
And road games:
The passion was strong:
Ichiro's immediate impact on the 2001 Mariners was a big reason the team finished 116-46 and won the AL West easily. And after the year was over, he was rewarded for his efforts with an AL MVP Award, an AL Rookie of the Year Award, a Gold Glove Award (the first of 10 he'd win) and a Silver Slugger Award (the first of three). He also led the AL in hits (242), stolen bases (56) and batting average (.350) along the way.
In 2004, he put himself in the history books with 262 base hits, passing the previous all-time high set by George Sisler (who recorded 257 in 1920).
Making the All-Star roster became an annual tradition, as Ichiro qualified in each of his first 10 seasons in Seattle. In 2007, he became the first (and, still, only) player to hit an inside-the-park homer in the All-Star Game, which he accomplished thanks to AT&T Park's outfield dimensions and his always-fresh legs:
When he was traded to the Yankees during the 2012 season, Ichiro left behind a legacy as the Mariners' all-time leader in batting average (.322), at-bats (7,858), hits (2,533), triples (79), stolen bases (438), singles (2,060), and intentional walks (172, tied with Ken Griffey Jr.). He was also a dear friend of the Mariner Moose:
Ichiro, 44, has stated he hopes to play until he's 50 years old ... and we could only be so lucky to get to watch him for that many more years.