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April 3, 2009 at 8:07 AM

An inner look at Ichiro

2009-03-07T134502Z_01_BTRE526127B00_RTROPTP_3_SPORTS-US-BASEBALL-WORLD-JAPAN.jpg
We’re still awaiting a medical update on Ichiro, who was examined by multiple doctors yesterday, including team physician Dr. Mitch Storey. Fatigue is one suggestion of what’s behind this. Some of you have been writing in to ask why that might be happening to Ichiro, since he’s usually in great physical and mental shape. Well, we’ve suggested the World Baseball Classic might have been a major drain on him, given the emotions he went through in leading Japan to the title.
For an idea of what those emotions were, here is a translation of an extensive interview Ichiro gave to Japanese television shortly after the tournament ended.
One of our regular blog readers, a Seattle-born lawyer living in Tokyo named Jason Tomita, working there for a U.S. firm, pointed out the interview and was gracious enough to translate for us. While the translation might not be Ken Barron perfect, it’s good enough to give us a sense of what Ichiro was going through. It’s rare for American media to get these types of interviews with him, given the language barriers and limits of simultaneous translation that Barron does. So, I was intrigued by this inner look. A lot of pressure on this guy. Much of it self-generated. Have a read.
Even if it turns out that fatigue from the WBC had nothing to do with why Ichiro missed the last three days of camp, it’s still a fascinating insight into his mindset.

Here is Part I of the interview. You can see it here on YouTube.
Interviewer: True congratulations on the WBC.
Ichiro: Thank you very much.
Interviewer: Only a few days have passed, what’s your mind-set?
Ichiro: I feel complete.
Interviewer: Complete?
Ichiro: No matter how it turned out, I’d feel complete, but things were going badly for a long time. In no way did I think THAT would happen.
[Cut to montage w/ narration and music and excerpts of the interview with Ichiro]
Interviewer: About “THAT”, I’d like to ask you in some detail, but first, they tied the game up in the 9th inning.
[Cut to Korea scoring tying run in bottom of 9th inning of WBC championship game]
Ichiro: There, I was a little bit ready for it. Things were going badly, I had a bad feeling. I thought about the possibility we’d say goodbye there. But [Dar]vish hung in there. Just hang in there, hang in there, Vish, I kept muttering under my breath. If we can just get through this last one, it’s still a tie game, I thought it might turn out. A feeling I had.
[Cut to Darvish striking out last batter in 9th]
Interviewer: Then after that. All of a sudden Uchikawa got a hit, Inaba bunts, it’s one out with a man on second.
Ichiro: At that time, Gun (Iwamura) was the batter, right. Come on, come on, just hit it, just hit it, get him home, I want you to get him home. Ah, then he hit it. It was pretty much down the left field line, I thought it’d be easy for him to come home. I couldn’t see from the dugout. I thought he’s coming home, but the runner was held up. So there are runners on first and third. And when he didn’t get home, I thought, “Crap! Crap!”.
[Cut to Ichiro jumping up from bench]
Ichiro: Then coach was fidgeting on the bench, in the dugout. I think he was considering who to use. Then in the end he picked “Mune”. I thought, oh, he picked Mune! Kawasaki Muneo, whether on the bench or on the field, even alone he’s always cheering, raising his voice. He was the hardest working player. Mune’s coming, I thought, take it, Mune, you’ve worked the hardest, take it! I thought to myself, trying to send him along.
[Cut to Kawasaki Muneo popping out]
Ichiro: So they made the switch there, bam. It’s come, I realized. If I get a hit here, it’d be really something. If I get a hit here, it’d be really something. If I don’t get a hit here, it’d be an even bigger deal! [laughs] When those thoughts go through your mind, you usually don’t get a good result. Because your head is full of distractions. But those thoughts were already going through my head, there’s nothing I can do. I can’t erase them.
Interviewer: Once they go through your head, you can’t get chase those thoughts off.
Ichiro: You can’t. I already thought I couldn’t. They’re already flowing through my brain. So I thought I’d ride them. So when I went up to bat, I went up feeling “Alright, now Ichiro is up to bat!” Like a little commentary in my head, “Here, Ichiro is now up to bat!” That’s how it began. First pitch was a ball. Then on the second pitch, Gun (Iwamura) ran to second, and it was a called strike. So two outs, men on third and second. Oh, boy, I thought. So there were all sorts of detailed commentary in my head, like “Foul ball!”, “Strike!”, “Another foul ball!”
Interviewer: So you felt really relaxed?
Ichiro: It wasn’t relaxation. I was just riding my feelings. I thought if it’s turned out like this, although I thought there were some negatives to it, if I didn’t enjoy myself, I just couldn’t do it. I was really scared. I thought about a bunch of negative things too, like I maybe I couldn’t go back to Japan in the offseason.
[Cut to fifth pitch in at bat] “There is a low foul ball.”
Ichiro: It was a ball that almost bounced in the dirt. When I hit that foul ball, I felt, I’ve got it.
Interviewer: I’ve got it?
Ichiro: No matter what, a good result will occur, I thought. If he goes after me, there was an extremely high probability that I would get a hit.
Interviewer: Why is that?
Ichiro: Why? It’s not that I was able to hit that ball foul. Rather, it was the feeling that I went after that ball feeling that I could get a hit. I can get a hit. But it ended up going foul. It was that I felt I could get a hit. No matter what comes, I can do it. It was that feeling.
Interviewer: And was the commentary in your head still going on?
Ichiro: It stopped there. It ended there.
[Cut to 6th pitch (foul), 7th pitch (ball), 8th pitch (hit)].
Photo Credit: Reuters
Go to the next page for Part II…


Part 2:
View it on YouTube by clicking this link.
Interviewer: Were there other times or games that particularly stuck out for you?
Ichiro: The Cuba game.
[Cut to Japan/Cuba game」
Narrator: After losing to Korea, a sudden-death match with Cuba. To Ichiro, it was becoming his worst memory.
[Cut to Ichiro popping out on attempted bunt with man on first.]
Narrator: A streak of 12 at bats, no hits.
Ichiro: It was a moment where I felt like my heart almost broke, where it was almost broken. My eyes met with coach’s. [Looks almost tearful] That was, well, it really truly hurtful for me. I felt strangely pierced [pointing at chest].
Interviewer: What did you think?
Ichiro: The fact that coach was still using me was, I thought, a message. Of course, during that game, I didn’t think “please substitute someone else for me”. But if the game kept going like it did and I didn’t put up any results, I thought I had to be ready for that.
[Cut to Ichiro walking, sitting in dugout.] Narrator: Ready, at this rate, to be taken off the field. And then another realization he kept to himself.
Interviewer: Before [the WBC] started, you used the phrase “Be ready” (kakugo). “Be ready and go for it”.
Ichiro: I was ready for the fact that, if we couldn’t win this tournament, I would never participate again. But from the middle, clearly, I was the reason. If we couldn’t win, in this condition, I couldn’t say “I want to participate” in the next tournament. I couldn’t make that statement.
Interviewer: When you things aren’t going how you want, what do you think yourself, what kind of actions do you take?
Ichiro: For those people who are watching, all I can do to show them something is to put up results. But, for those on the inside — my teammates — to show them something, even when I’m not putting up results, what becomes important is how should I be, how I must be.
[Cut to practice before Cuba game. ] Narrator: Days without results. Ichiro never looked down in front of his teammates. He got to the ballpark earlier than anyone, and kept swinging his bat. Then, during practice before the Cuba game, it happened.
Ichiro: (smiling) Hmm? Today all the fielders look a little different…
[Cut to practice before Cuba game.]
Narrator: What caught Ichiro’s attention was his teammates’ legs. They had their pants legs up showing their stockings.
Ichiro: I was looking at that.
Interviewer: Do you know the reason?
Ichiro: I didn’t know it.
[Narrator: It’s Ichiro’s style.]
[Cut to Kataoka, a WBC teammate] Kataoka: Ichiro was having a hard time for a while, wasn’t he. It was to pick him up.
[Cut to Kamei, a WBC teammate] Kamei: Honestly it was hard to speak to him, so with gestures, like pulling up our stockings.
[Cut to Uchikawa, a WBC teammate] Uchikawa: Kamei said, let’s do it. So i said, alright, let’s do it. Then bit by bit everyone said, you do it too, you do it too. in the end we even got Inaba to do it.
[Cut to Inaba, a WBC teammate] Inaba: Let’s change the flow [they said]. So I said, I’ll do it too. [Laughs]
Narrator: Starting with the three youngest players — Kataoka, Uchikawa, Kamei — to the oldest — Kamei — they sent a silent message to Ichiro. Then, that day’s Cuba game, after the failed bunt, his fourth at bat. [Shows Ichiro getting a hit grounder past first] Narrator: His first hit in 13 at-bats. Then what was waiting for him…
Ichiro: They came up to me with with incredible, great smiles. Everyone said to me so happily, “nice batting!” and high-fived me. I was really happy about that. They were really smiling from, happy from the bottom of their hearts. That really, really supported me. Especially Yasu’s [Kataoka’s] face, I can’t forget it.
Narrator: Ichiro didn’t find out the message behind the stockings were to support him until after the WBC.
Ichiro: When I heard it, I was really moved. That my juniors were showing such kindness to me and trying to take care of me, I was a little bit surprised, and I was moved.
[Cut to Kawasaki Muneo and Ichiro standing in dugout]
Narrator: Teammates, in bad times and good times, they watched Ichiro’s back.
Ichiro: At the end, [Kawasaki Muneo] sent me an e-mail. “I like you even more now than I did before,” something to that effect. “The reason why is because you were so great when you weren’t hitting,” he wrote. “And your last hit, I will never forget as long as I live.” It brought tears to my eyes. I half cried. Really, I wanted to send Muneo two years’ worth of Yunkel [laughs]. [Yunkel is a health drink Ichiro endorses].
[Cut to Ichiro getting winning hit in 10th inning of championship game]
Narrator: The unforgettable last hit. But even then, Ichiro couldn’t quite relax.
Ichiro: Even then I had a problem. Everyone was probably happy. If I looked at the dugout, I’d get emotional, so I couldn’t look. I didn’t look — well I think the right way to put it is I couldn’t look. So I looked at the replay, touched my helmet, at any rate I had to kill time [smiling].
[Cut to Ichiro standing on second base, touching his helmet.]
Narrator: At that time, the view in the dugout.
[Cut to teammates looking at Ichiro and cheering, dramatic music].
Interviewer: Did you feel that, because you had overcome difficulty you had achieved something special
Ichiro: I didn’t feel confidence because Japan won and in the end it was a good result. I felt confidence in the way I was until that point. And now I think there’s probably nothing scarier that will come up.

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