day 45: ichiro

Today is 45 days, which is three days and six weeks of the omer: tiferet she’b’malchut.

As we get close to Sinai and I reflect on the entirety of this project, I realized that I hadn’t included any Japanese players, many great ones of whom have come to North America to play professionally. To say baseball is an intensely popular sport in Japan is an understatement, and today’s pick was the first Nippon Professional Baseball player to make a successful transition to Major League Baseball.

Side note 1: My dad played little league in Japan when he lived there as a military brat, and I remember a little trophy he won displayed in my childhood house.

Side note 2: I named a car I got in 2007 “Daisuke” after the much-hyped Red Sox pitcher (a triumph marred by the presence of Scott Boras). Yes, the car was Japanese. Other past car names have included Nausicaa-r — you Classics majors will understand, but a Swedish, not Greek, car — and Oskar, a German car. (I will be, gd willing, buying a car later this week when I arrive in Durham, so I’ll soon be in the market for a new name.)

I’ve also realized upon reflection that there are some MLB teams that I just don’t know much about, and the Seattle Mariners are one of them. So today’s pick rectifies both of these deficiencies.

During his career, right fielder Ichiro Sukuzi sported #51, not #45, but that means he’ll never get to be included in this project. When he retired at age 45 (see what I did there?), he was among the top 20 oldest MLB players, tied with Cap Anson, Pete Rose, Carlton Fisk, and Omar Vizquiel. Plus, Joe Posnanski writes, “No single number could ever explain a human as thrilling, as unusual and as wonderful as Ichiro Suzuki.” So there you go.

Here you can see some great highlights of the 10-time All Star, 10-time Golden Glove winner, three-time Sliver Slugger, two-time AL batting champion, AL Rookie of the Year, and AL MVP. (And that’s just his accolades in the MLB, to say nothing of the honors he garnered in nine years in NPB.)

Suzuki is some kind of match for today’s sefirotTiferet is associated with the patriarch Jacob, but as Rabbi Art Green notes, not the trickster Biblical version. “The kabbalist’s Jacob is the idealized patriarch, ‘the elder Israel’ (Jacob’s new name gained in his struggle with the angel) of the rabbinic imagination, the source of blessing for all of his children and all who later identify as ‘the children of Israel.'”

Like so many legends — including our patriarchs! — Suzuki literally only needs his first name. It’s what’s on his jersey, defying 60 years of league convention. A few years ago, on the occasion of his return to Seattle for his final season, ESPN published a gorgeous, if painful, story about Suzuki. It underlines all of the intensity this physically unassuming fellow brought to a larger than life role.

1*b9CP4dyhDkd_Iat9fQvTZwBut for me there are two main stories that qualify Suzuki as this kind of Jacobian blessing. One is that over the course of 2018-2019, he became obsessed with perfecting his ability to throw batting practice as a way to help out his younger teammates. You know, as future HoFs do. And the other is his relationship to the Negro Leagues. He so admired Buck O’Neil that after the latter’s death, Suzuki sent a huge bouquet of flowers to O’Neil’s Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and then later made the largest donation by an active player to that museum.

So let’s count day 45 in honor of this elder statesman of baseball and his beautiful nobility.

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