MESA, Ariz. — Ichiro Suzuki is a sinewy 5 ft 11 inches and 170 kilos, whereas Mike Trout is a stout 6-2, 235. They characterize wildly completely different physique varieties and enjoying types, however their distinctive talents converged in influencing the profession path of Seiya Suzuki.
After simply two weeks with the Chicago Cubs, although, Suzuki is doing so much to create his personal identification.
On opening day, the outfielder was thrown into the hearth in opposition to Corbin Burnes of the Milwaukee Brewers — the Nationwide League’s reigning Cy Younger Award winner — and he produced a single and a stroll, which is not any small feat in opposition to a pitcher identified for his pinpoint management .
“I had by no means seen a pitch like that earlier than, but it surely excited me,” Suzuki informed Japanese reporters of Burnes’s reduce fastball. “I used to be like, ‘Wow, there are pitchers that may do that right here?’ The drive and motion of the ball was shocking and easily one thing I had by no means seen.”
Excited? sure deterred? Under no circumstances.
Since his debut, Suzuki has continued to radiate, enjoying proper discipline and batting in the course of the Cubs’ order. He homered in back-to-back video games at Pittsburgh, had gone deep twice extra by way of Thursday and had collected 12 RBI, together with 13 walks, two of which have been intentional. He was main the majors with a .520 on-base share.
Whereas they share a surname, Suzuki is just not associated to Ichiro Suzuki, the longtime Seattle Mariners star who had his personal scintillating debut in 2001. Ichiro Suzuki’s stellar first season earned him the uncommon mixture of being each Most worthy participant and rookie of the 12 months — making him the one one of many 16 place gamers to return over from Japan to be named his league’s high rookie. (Shohei Ohtani, a two-way star, so what, in 2018.)
The 2022 MLB Season
A season that was unsure is all of the sudden in full gear.
The seventeenth place participant from Japan, in fact, is Seiya Suzuki, and his .343 batting common by way of 13 video games makes comparisons to Ichiro Suzuki pretty apparent.
These comparisons have been coming since Seiya was chosen out of highschool by the Hiroshima Carp within the second spherical of the 2012 draft. Instantly, he was nicknamed the “red-helmeted Ichiro,” a reference to the loudly coloured headgear of Carp batters. He was additionally initially given the identical uniform quantity as Ichiro, 51, earlier than ultimately accepting No. 1 for the 2019 season, a prestigious honor with the Carp.
Similar to Ichiro, the youthful Suzuki’s journey to proper discipline started on a highschool pitcher’s mound, the place he reached 92 miles per hour on radar weapons. However Hiroshima coveted his offensive potential and started creating him as an infielder. He bounced round between positions throughout call-ups in 2013 and 2014, however by 2016, at age 21, he was the Carp’s beginning proper fielder.
The younger Suzuki’s battle to safe a place caught the attention of Hiroki Kuroda, who had pitched in the USA, together with with the Yankees from 2012 to 2014. It led to career-changing recommendation — and a shift in strategy. The red-helmeted Ichiro would attempt to get extra out of his muscular physique.
“I used to be so completely consumed with establishing myself and combating for a job with the Carp again then that American baseball was the farthest factor from my thoughts,” Suzuki defined lately in his native Japanese. “However Kuroda San seen me and informed me a couple of participant over there who I reminded him of with the same construct and ability set. He informed me if I labored exhausting, I may very well be like him.”
Kuroda had simply rejoined the Carp after seven seasons and 79 wins for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Yankees. The participant he was referencing to encourage Suzuki? The Angels’ Trout — thought of by many to be one of many best all-around gamers in baseball historical past.
Kuroda’s encouragement made an instantaneous impression.
“I began trying to find video of this man,” Suzuki defined. “When I discovered it, I used to be mesmerized by his expertise. He may run, he may throw, he may hit, and he had energy. For Kuroda San to inform me I had it inside myself to grow to be that sort of participant was so inspiring. It gave me nice motivation on the precise time I wanted it most. It influenced my coaching, my eating regimen, and my complete strategy. I grew to become a lot extra targeted on turning into that man.”
By the point Kuroda retired in 2016, after two seasons as Suzuki’s teammate, Trout had gained two of his three MVP awards and been voted to 5 consecutive All-Star Video games — a streak now at 9. Reached in Japan by cellphone, Kuroda defined what he noticed within the younger Suzuki to make such a comparability.
“I do know I set the bar excessive,” Kuroda stated in Japanese. “However they’re each right-handed-hitting outfielders with the same construct. Clearly, I am not a batter, however once I have a look at Seiya Suzuki from a pitcher’s perspective, I see a extremely powerful out. Past that, you’ve got the time period ‘five-tool participant’ in America, and that is precisely what he’s. Not only a proficient batter, however he excels in all the talents required of a place participant. That full bundle with that physique sort jogged my memory of Trout.”
Kuroda was additional enthralled by the best way Suzuki took his recommendation to coronary heart.
“All I did was discover his potential and provides him a objective, albeit a excessive one,” he stated. “He had the drive and the need to pursue it. Along with his all-around athleticism, I might say his unwavering ambition is one among his most spectacular qualities.”
Whereas Suzuki was impressed by Trout’s expertise, he cautioned that his objective was much less to play similar to Trout and extra to channel his vitality into maximizing his expertise, which is what he noticed from Trout in these movies.
“Baseball is a sport you play daily,” Suzuki stated. “By giving myself the problem of maximizing my potential to the fullest like Trout had accomplished along with his, I used to be capable of push myself once I bought annoyed by telling myself, ‘I will wager he stored pushing himself,’ or once I would really feel exhausted, I would assume, ‘You are not going to achieve your greatest like he did should you cease right here.’ he wasn’t my rival; he was my inspiration.”
Along with his fielding exploits, which earned him 5 of Japan’s Golden Glove awards, Suzuki hit .300 or higher in six consecutive seasons for Hiroshima, profitable batting titles in 2019 and 2021. Those self same seasons, he additionally led the Central League in on -base share and on-base plus slugging share. He hit 25 or extra dwelling runs yearly as an everyday and reached double digits in stolen bases thrice. He made two all-star groups and represented Japan on the 2017 World Baseball Basic and in final summer time’s Tokyo Olympics, the place he earned a gold medal.
Whereas Suzuki stated he initially had not thought of competing in the USA, that problem ultimately grew to become the pure development of his dedication to maximise his potential. Suzuki acknowledged Trout’s affect by adopting his jersey quantity, 27, upon signing with the Cubs.
As Suzuki talked concerning the exhilaration from all the brand new issues he hopes to come across in American baseball — like Burnes’s reduce fastball — he threw in an surprising curveball, which made Kuroda’s commentary about his quest for self-improvement all of the extra obvious.
“I even think about the followers’ manner of heckling is completely different right here, and I can not wait to expertise that,” he stated.
If his begin is any indication of how his profession will develop, being heckled could not occur usually, at the very least not in Chicago.
Brad Lefton is a bilingual journalist based mostly in St. Louis who has lined baseball in Japan and America for practically three many years.