Ichiro Suzuki is no longer a Mariner. It happened so fast, with so little warning, that Seattle’s fans never got a proper chance to say good bye to their most recognizable player of the last 10 seasons. Seattle’s a bit like Boston and a bit like Chicago: a city where heartbreak in sports is far more common than success. Ichiro is a person, of course, but if a city can ever lay claim on a person, Ichiro was Seattle’s—what with the Ichi Rolls and Area 51—the way New York claims Derek Jeter or Atlanta Chipper Jones.
Maybe there’s some metaphor here about how no one ever stays with the same company any more and it’s no different for professional athletes than it is for Joe Businessman. Jeter is Jeter and Chipper is Chipper not just because they are first-ballot Hall of Famers, but because they’ve spent their entire careers in New York and Atlanta, and they are long careers. Until a few nights ago, most of us would have probably listed Ichiro in this small but elite category, players so entwined with their team that imagining them in any other uniform was simply too weird to contemplate.
It still feels weird, even after a few at bats in a Yankees uniform. Those at bats still occurred in Seattle, almost as though we were given some sort of grace period, almost as if the teams’ front offices decided this would only work if Seattle got a chance to say good-bye. It doesn’t really feel like a chance, though. When Girardi’s batting you leadoff because it’s quite possibly your last-ever game in SafeCo, it doesn’t feel like it’s enough. David Ortiz hasn’t suddenly been traded to the Athletics, so why is Ichiro suddenly a Yankee?
Certainly, it makes sense for the Yankees: Brett Gardner is almost certainly done for the season, and the Yankees can’t afford to have Raul Ibañez’s defense in the lineup every day (and all of this before Alex Rodriguez breaks his hand). Ichiro fills a need, didn’t cost the Yankees much (D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar were unlikely to play significant roles for the Yankees, and Seattle essentially picked up most of the tab on Ichiro’s remaining contract), and remains one of the game’s most marketable players. For the Yankees, it’s a business transaction and one can almost imagine the Yankees as cold and ruthless as the proverbial U.S. Steel, conducting their affairs with ruthless efficiency.
It’s a bit different, I expect, if you’re the Mariners. One rather run-of-the-mill photo tweeted by @Lookoutlanding conveys a sense of unsettled-ness; the boy in the Ichiro t-shirt probably too young to understand what’s happened, and the neon-green sign that doesn’t seem nearly as impressive any more, even as it conveys a heartbreaking message seen all too often today, space made free because the rent has gotten too damn high. Life, of course, does go on—the fans on their smartphones don’t seem at all concerned—but maybe that’s the most heartbreaking part. After just over eleven and a half seasons (long enough that someone in elementary school when you debuted is now old enough to be your teammate), it’s all over, as though it was nothing more than an evanescence: a flash of brilliant lightning against a dark sky, for a moment illuminating everything, and then gone, with only ashes and memory to remind you that it happened at all.