“That’s a lot of hits, man,” Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said last week. “It’s pretty impressive. I don’t care if it’s 4,000 in Little League. It shows how consistent he’s been throughout his career. It makes you look at how many hits he’s got in a short amount of time. That’s difficult to do, so Ichi has been as consistent as anyone.”
To Suzuki, though, the rarefied number means one thing.
“Not necessarily the 4,000, just the fact that you’re getting a hit in the game,” he said through an interpreter after getting three hits in the opener of a doubleheader Tuesday to leave him at 3,999. “If you don’t produce you’re not going to play in games. Me producing in games is what’s good for me.”
He has been producing since he was an 18-year-old rookie with the Blue Wave.
A career .353 hitter in Japan, Suzuki became the first Japanese-born non-pitcher to sign with a major league team. He smoothly made the move from Orix to the Mariners in 2001 when he was 27. He was selected AL Rookie of the Year and MVP in his first season when he batted .350, had 242 hits and stole 56 bases.
The slender 10-time All-Star seemingly could place the ball wherever he wanted with a slashing swing that makes him look more like an epee-wielding fencer than a professional baseball player.
Suzuki had at least 206 hits in each of his first 10 years in the majors, peaking in 2004 when he set the record for hits in a season with 262, topping George Sisler’s mark of 257 established in 1920.
His hit Wednesday night was the 2,209th single of his career.
“It’s an amazing feat,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s a testament to how hard he’s worked, how long he’s been in the game, how he stays healthy, how he goes about his business.”
Uniquely fashionable, Suzuki often wears skinny jeans cuffed at the bottom to show off a rainbow of shoes and socks. Sporting clothes by his favorite designer, Thom Browne, he looks more like a 20-something than a graying star.
Despite his age, Suzuki should have a good shot at the revered major league mark of 3,000 hits, one that doesn’t come with debates over the merits of the achievement. He is signed for one more year with New York at $6.5 million, and the 10-time Gold Glove winner is still is an outstanding outfielder.
But he’s not thinking about that mark.
“I don’t make goals that are so far away,” Suzuki said. “What I do is what I can every day and really build off that and see where that takes me.”
After a down season in 2011 in which he hit a career-low .272 for a Seattle team that lost 95 games, Suzuki was traded to New York in July 2012. Accused of isolating himself in the young Mariners clubhouse, Suzuki easily fit into the star-studded Yankees room and hit .322 the rest of the season.
He is batting .275 with New York this year, and he’s really enjoying his time with the team. His treatment Wednesday reinforced that.