Ichiro Suzuki donates 3,000-hit souvenirs to Hall of Fame
MIAMI (AP) The president of the Baseball Hall of Fame was the grateful recipient Monday as Ichiro Suzuki handed over his gear - a jersey, a pair of cleats, his arm guard and batting gloves, all items he wore while becoming the 30th player to reach 3,000 hits.
When the exchange concluded, the two men bowed to each other, a fitting gesture to celebrate the bridge from Japan to Cooperstown.
Suzuki began building that bridge when he came to the major leagues as a 27-year-old rookie in 2001. Three-thousand hits later, he's a memorabilia-making machine.
The Suzuki collection at the Hall of Fame numbered more than two dozen items even before his triple Sunday at Colorado, which made him the first Japanese player to reach 3,000 hits. When he and his teammates returned to Marlins Park to begin a homestand, Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson was there to collect additional Suzuki souvenirs.
''Jeff asked me about the stuff,'' Suzuki said through an interpreter. ''I was happy to give it to him. I have an agreement with Jeff that when I die, all of my stuff is going to go to Jeff and the Hall of Fame.''
Suzuki, a baseball history buff, has visited Cooperstown six times.
''There is no current player I've encountered who has as deep an appreciation of baseball history as Ichiro,'' Idelson said. ''This is a guy who understands his place in history. Because of that, as a sport and as a country, we're all the richer.''
While Major League Baseball celebrated Suzuki's achievement, it was even bigger news back home. Several dozen reporters and photographers from Japan had been logging lots of air miles following their nation's most famous athlete as he approached the milestone and then went into a slump.
With the triple in Denver - only his second hit in 17 at-bats since July 29 - he said his overriding emotion was relief that so many of his countrymen would be reunited with their families.
''For the last couple of weeks there have been a lot of members of the media following me,'' Suzuki said. ''I'm just so happy they can go back to their homes now.''
Suzuki's characteristically humble attitude regarding his achievement transcended the language barrier. When asked to name the most famous person to congratulate him on 3,000 hits, he responded in English.
''Justin Bour,'' he said, drawing laughter.
Bour, the Marlins' rotund first baseman, is famous mostly in his own family but expressed gratitude for the recognition from Suzuki.
''I think he's just trying to make me feel better after he blasted me yesterday for being fat,'' Bour said.
Suzuki, Bour and the Marlins are in playoff contention for a change. Miami hasn't been to the postseason since 2003, and Suzuki has made it only twice in his 16-year career.
''Small things turn into big things,'' he said. ''I hope our team can continue to do the small things and they'll turn into big things.''
Meticulous preparation is a Suzuki hallmark, and he spoke at a news conference more than four hours before Monday's game already in uniform. That included sunglasses atop the bill of his cap, even though he was going to be playing indoors at night.
While ready for action, he was in need of a new bat. Suzuki put aside the one that produced the historic triple, one of the few mementoes he has kept.
''I really don't have much,'' he said. ''Most of it is in my home in Seattle. It's something I think I'll enjoy once I become a grandpa.''
At 42, he's old enough to be thinking about grandchildren - and retirement. He has often said he wants to play until at least 50 but sidestepped that subject Monday, saying he's taking it one at-bat at time.
With Suzuki's help, even baseball cliches have gone global.