Legendary Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki surprised the baseball world last week by announcing his retirement after 28 seasons, prompting an outpouring of appreciation from fans across the globe.
Among the most diehard of those fans was his own teammate, Mariners second baseman Dee Gordon.
Gordon, 30, took out a full-page ad in Thursday’s Seattle Times to publish an open letter to the man he grew up idolizing.
“People don’t know how much you’ve helped me over these last five years, Ichi. We both know I’ve had good times, bad times, ups and downs, but your friendship never wavered once,” Gordon wrote. “You always stuck by my side through anything, and always had my back. If I was wronged, you would stick up for me every time, even if it hurt you getting on the field.”
Gordon recalled looking up to Suzuki when he was a kid growing up in Avon Park, Florida, “and thinking to myself, ‘damn, bruh skinny like me, so if he could do it, I most definitely can too!’”
“You made me want to play baseball,” Gordon wrote of Suzuki, a 10-time Golden Glove winner and 10-time All-Star pick.
The second baseman said he finally met his idol back in 2004, at the All-Star Game in Houston. Gordon said that while many other players were “huge and hit homers,” Suzuki “stayed true to yourself, your work, your process, and most importantly, your culture.”
“You showed me that I could do anything and everything I could possibly want to do in this game, even when literally everyone is twice as big as us!”
Gordon also reflected on a game he played while with the Los Angeles Dodgers in which he got distracted watching Suzuki’s hitting instead of playing defense. While the two wouldn’t get to talk then, they reunited when both joined the Miami Marlins in 2015, meeting again at spring training in Jupiter, Florida.
“I remember going to Jupiter early, just hoping you were there so I could watch you hit and run. When you finally arrived, I nervously walked over to you and, bro, you were so nice to me,” Gordon recalled. “You told me you would help me in any way possible. I swear, it hit me hard. To this day, I be saying, ‘Yo! I play with Ichi!? How? I’m from little Avon Park!’”
The second baseman explained that he didn’t feel a tweet or Instagram post would truly suffice in expressing his appreciation for the baseball legend.
“Without your friendship and guidance ― and if you you never told me your secrets (don’t worry, bro, I’ll never tell!) ― there wouldn’t be a batting champion named Dee Gordon.”
Gordon was visibly emotional when Suzuki announced his retirement last Thursday at the Tokyo Dome in Japan, where the Mariners opened their season with a series against the Oakland A’s. Gordon was seen with tears streaming down his face over the icon’s departure.
Indeed Suzuki’s immense impact on the game of baseball is undeniable. The outfielder, who played professionally for nearly three decades in Japan and the U.S., left the field to a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd. He has been hailed as one of the best-ever hitters in both countries and is also known for paving the way for many other Japanese baseball players coming to the U.S.
Ultimately, Suzuki finished his career in the country where it all began.
“For me, it doesn’t get better than tonight,” Suzuki said at a press conference on the eve of his retirement. “Nothing can top what happened tonight for me.”