Everyday Ichiro #001: Return of the Routine

via Yahoo!

The first opportunity to watch Ichiro take an at-bat after a long winter off from baseball is always a joyous thing indeed. – Conor Dowley, Pro Ball NW

Last year I took a stab at blogging about one team on a daily basis: the Mariners. The blog was called Everyday Ichiro, and the experience was humbling and illuminating. I watched the team play every day, scoring the game in my own style–a sort of running play-by-play and scouting report–and synthesizing my observations into regular posts.

I had never watched so much baseball, or learned so much about a team so quickly. Blogging a team daily required a Zen centeredness, a spiritual calm, and a sense of patience that I’ve rarely drawn upon. My attention span increased, and my awareness of the broader trends of a baseball team expanded.  But, alas, my experiment lasted just half of the season. It didn’t help that the Mariners turned out to be, without exaggeration, one of the worst baseball teams in history.

The daily baseball blogger, working for little to no pay, year after year, is a folk hero.

The primary inspiration for the blog was the opportunity, as a then-new Seattleite, to watch Ichiro Suzuki play every day. Such a privilege deserved notice, and I devoted a section of most of my game analyses to his at bats. Every game, Ichiro used his unique skills and speed to coin a novel way to hit a single or make an out. So distinct is his game that his failures are often just as compelling as his successes, which, in a game of failures, is an aesthetic boon. Each at bat was and is an aesthetic experience.

So, while Everyday Ichiro the blog expired and now floats aimlessly in Fire Joe Morgan/Walkoff Walk Dormant Baseball Blog Purgatory, my goal is to carry on the core concept: the chronicle the exploits of Ichiro, right here on Pitchers and Poets,* with Eric throwing in his two cents as well.

*I know that I live in Seattle, and that Mariners ball isn’t on everyone’s radar, but it’s my belief that Ichiro is among the players who transcend the limitations of franchise and make us all happy to be baseball fans.

via Yahoo!

Without further ado, here is the first edition of 2011’s Everyday Ichiro:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011, vs. MIL

With the first televised Mariners Spring Training game, there’s the chance to once again bathe in the routine of Ichiro. I missed it–as did Conor at Pro Ball NW quoted about–without realizing how much I missed it.

Ichiro’s routine balances the regularity of his tics, stretches, and postures with the irregularity of his batting style. He lofts easy pop ups, chops grounders, swings at bad pitches, takes awful swings, and dribbles swinging bunts to every side, even as every single pitch he brings the bat up in a salute, brings his hand to his cheek, glances past the pitcher, and swings the bat back up to the hitting position as predictably as if they were the hands of a grandfather clock.

To paraphrase Grampa Simpson and his description of Jonny Unitas’ haircut, Ichiro is a player you can set your watch to.

1. In his first at bat of the evening, against the Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo, Ichiro takes a couple of pitches, then rolls a smooth grounder right to the shortstop, and is thrown out at first by a quarter step. The return of the image of Ichiro, and his unnatural quickness to first base.

2. Nobody dodges an inside pitch like Ichiro. He dances gracefully away from danger. Gallardo’s straight fastball and his good curve keep Ichiro on guard, and he fouls away pitches until the count goes full. An easy grounder to second retires the batter, who has important things on his mind after natural disaster wreaked havoc on his homeland.

On these shores, baseball was back, and Ichiro was back. The sun had gone down in Seattle, and the dog was asleep. I followed quick on his heels, and wouldn’t see if Ichiro hit again, or even if the Mariners won the game.

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