Born: October 22, 1973, Kasugai, Japan
High School: Aikodai Meiden Koko, Aichi
Currently: Right field, Seattle Mariners
Ichiro Suzuki took the Major Leagues by storm in 2001, winning both the American League Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year awards while leading the Seattle Mariners to an American League-record 116 wins. For good measure, he also took home the AL batting title and a Gold Glove Award.
In each of his five seasons in the Major Leagues, Ichiro has posted 200-plus hits, made the All-Star team, won the Gold Glove, and led the league in singles. He won his second batting title in 2004, the year he broke the all-time single-season hits record with 262. In 2006, Ichiro led Japan’s national team to a championship win in the inaugural World Baseball Classic, batting .364 and scoring seven runs in eight games.
Ichiro started training under the tutelage of his father at the age of three. His father spent every day from 3:30 in the afternoon until 12 midnight — and often beyond — putting Ichiro through a grueling practice routine. At age twelve Ichiro wrote the following essay, now one of the 2,000 objects on display at the Ichiro Exhibition Room in Najoya:
“My dream when I grow up is to be a first-class professional baseball player…I have the confidence to do the necessary practice to reach that goal. I started practicing from age three. From the age of nine I practiced baseball 360 out of 365 days a year and I practiced hard. I only had five to six hours a year to play with my friends. That’s how much I practiced. So I think I can surely become a pro. I will play in junior high school and high school. When I graduate I will enter the pros. My dream is to join the Seibu Lions or the Chunichi Dragons. My goal is a contract signing bonus of 100 million yen.”
Ichiro had incredible success in junior high school and was recruited by the prestigious high school baseball program at Aikodai Meiden Koko (“Meiden”). At Meiden, Ichiro starred as a left-handed pitcher and led the team to the Koshien Tournament twice. In his three-year high school career, Ichiro had an absurd .502 batting average, hitting 19 home runs and stealing 131 bases. In 536 at-bats he struck out only ten times, and never once swinging.
Despite all of his success, Ichiro was not drafted until the 36th round of the Japanese professional draft (he weighed only 120 lbs.). Ichiro proved the scouts wrong by starting his career with three straight Pacific League MVP awards. He went on to earn seven straight batting titles and seven straight Gold Gloves in Japanese pro ball before signing to the Seattle Mariners.