Ichiro, the mortal, will try to answer critics in season's second half
Ichiro, the Mariners' star right fielder, will have to turn it on in second half to reach his usual milestones of 200 hits and a .300 batting average.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Ichiro, the mortal, is an oddly fascinating character.
He's intriguing in the same way that Superman was when he decided to only be Clark Kent for a while. It seems that we purposely make the narrative of a star athlete's career mimic a superhero's: superhuman ascent, underappreciated excellence, crisis of identity, dramatic rebirth. Ichiro fits neatly into that script now, and even though this movie has been made many times, the suspense never ceases.
Because the expectation is that it will end in triumph.
But what if it doesn't?
No, no. It has to end the other way. The expected way. The right way. Ichiro, the mortal, just exists to make us appreciate the superstar when he returns. His struggles are all for plot. They have to be. Right? And everything will start changing for the better now that Ichiro has been left off the All-Star team for the first time in 11 seasons.
The alternative is too frightening to ponder.
For certain, Ichiro, the mortal, isn't as fun to watch as his other personas: the mysterious star, the dynamo of habit and the solitary baseball savant. During his time with the Mariners, we've seen those sides of him, and it didn't matter that we couldn't understand his eccentricities because his excellence overwhelmed the desire to figure him out.
As long as he collected 200 hits, posted a .330 batting average and won a Gold Glove, it was foolish to be dissatisfied with greatness. Just the same, it was impossible to appreciate him fully because he seldom reveals a human side to embrace. As a character, Ichiro had been a flat, unchanging protagonist starring for a team that made the playoffs only in his rookie season, and we've been left to interpret him, which of course leads to misinterpretations, unrealistic expectations and all-around buffoonery.
But Ichiro, the mortal, is different. He's, well, normal. There's no mystique about average performance. He's a 37-year-old man with salt invading the pepper in his hair. It's hard to observe his declining skills at times, but when critics breathlessly declare that he's done, it's fun to watch him defy the notion.
He did it in June, responding to a May slump that made everyone realize he's nearing the end of his career. But it's early July now, and Ichiro still isn't quite right (or even close enough to disguise it). In addition, he wasn't popular enough to be voted an All-Star Game starter. And his reputation couldn't convince Texas manager Ron Washington to ignore his .274 average and emerging defensive problems and put him on the team as a reserve.
It wasn't a snub, either. Clearly, it was the right decision. Ichiro hasn't been good enough the first half of this season.
Ichiro, the non-All-Star? Unfathomable. Consistency defines him. Same routine, same results. We know five absolutes about Ichiro. He's meticulous in taking care of his body. He hits .300. He collects 200 hits. He wins a Gold Glove. And he makes the All-Star team.
One absolute is gone. The Gold Glove probably will be, too. And he'll have to sprint to reach .300 and 200 in the second half.
Well, at least he's still in great physical condition. If not, he probably would be done.
I expect Ichiro to have a tremendous second half. I expect him to get his .300 average and 200 hits. Those numbers matter to him. If he accomplishes them, it will mean he played some of the finest baseball of his career. He still has that in him. Right?
Remember the tear he went on after manager Eric Wedge gave him a day off earlier this season? Ichiro will get the entire All-Star break off this time. He'll be refreshed. And he'll be intent on answering those "What's wrong with Ichiro?" questions.
Right now, Ichiro is neither superstar nor Ken Griffey Jr. in his final season. He's merely descended from great to some level of good. Like all aging players, how good depends on the day. And like all aging players, Ichiro must evolve if he wishes to remain effective.
The best thing about old stars is that, when their athletic ability diminishes, we get to watch them use their brains. Ichiro, the mortal, should be no different. He must replace his decreasing speed with savvy. There's a level of solid performance that he should find between now and when the credits roll on his career. Surely, he'll get to that place. Right?
That's the way the script reads, at least.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com,
About Jerry Brewer
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