Arguably the most accomplished and influential Asian athlete ever, Ichiro Suzuki has officially called it quits. The forty-five-year-old hitting machine came with the Seattle Mariners to play against the Oakland A’s in the two-game Major League Baseball season opening series at the Tokyo Dome. But from the moment this series was announced a little under a year ago, it has been nothing short of surreal. At the time, Ichiro was floundering in his return to the Mariners after seven years away playing for the New York Yankees and Miami Marlins. A couple of days after the opening series was revealed, the Mariners announced that Ichiro would be moving from the field to the front office as special assistant to the chairman. But he was not, repeat not, retiring as a player. Fast forward to late March 2019 when in front of a rapturous crowd of 47,000, Ichiro was lifted in the eighth inning of a tie game. You can spend the better part of a year planning for this moment and it will still get away from you. This was history and raw emotion on so many different levels. When Ichiro made his professional debut 28 years ago, more than half his Mariners teammates were not of this earth yet. Those of us who have been in Asia for his entire career are, much like the great man himself, old. Much older, actually, since the first time I saw him play and that’s another painful irony when 25 years seems like two weeks. A legend. An icon. An international superstar. Enjoy retirement, Ichiro! #ThanksIchiro pic.twitter.com/5kB5t5sEcD — San Francisco Giants (@SFGiants) March 22, 2019 <!--//--><![CDATA[// ><!--\n\n\n//--><!]]> I was doing play-by-play on the broadcast of the Japan Series for Star Sports to 55 countries in Asia, most of which knew nothing about the game. But the boy – the slender prodigy who was so cool he was half-man, half-cat – him they would know because the cameras never left him alone. At 20, Ichiro would go on to win the first of his three straight MVP’s and set a Pacific League record by hitting a staggering .385 for the Orix Blue Wave. He has been suffocated ever since. A moment I’ll never forget. #Ichiro pic.twitter.com/M5KZtXdXjM — Jarret DeHart (@JD_Hitting) March 22, 2019 <!--//--><![CDATA[// ><!--\n\n\n//--><!]]> “I once asked pitcher Shigetoshi Hasegawa to describe Ichiro’s stature in Japan,” said Jim Caple, long time espn.com columnist, who was covering the series for The Washington Post . “He said, ‘Ichiro is the Madonna and Michael Jackson of Japan all rolled into one.’” In 1998 the MLB stars toured Japan and Ichiro was the focus as well. A few Japanese pitchers played in the Major Leagues, but no hitters had. MLB was coming off its muscle-bound renaissance season with Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa smashing home-run records. Maybe that’s why Mike Hargrove, the Cleveland Indians manager running the MLB team, looked puzzled when I asked him how he thought Ichiro would do in the major leagues. “He might make a fourth outfielder,” he said, bearing in mind that only three outfielders actually play. Imagine my embarrassment having written the day before that Ichiro was the best outfielder in the world. Major League Baseball kicks off its global push on safe and ravenous soil in Tokyo In 2001, Ichiro finally became the first Japanese hitter to play in the major leagues. He would hit .350 and steal 50 bases, the first player to lead the league in both hitting and stolen bases since Jackie Robinson in 1949, and win both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player and go on to be the best outfielder in the world for many years. Of course he was, all you had to do was look. Ichiro not only overcame the parochial parameters of baseball’s old boys’ network, he showed the likes of Yao Ming and even Manny Pacquioa that great is great regardless of whether you hail from the most remote corners of Asia or mid-town Manhattan. More than his 3,089 Major League hits and hall of fame career, fans all over the world fell in love with Ichiro because, much like Yao, his dignity, poise and professionalism was infectious. You should be proud of Ichiro, Asia. Damn proud. And in an era of unbridled cynicism and rampant commercialism in professional sports, organisers of the 2019 MLB opening series in Tokyo should be damn proud as well. They got out of the way and let the moment evolve. Even Ichiro, who is meticulous about his game-day preparation and often averse to the public, could exhale and embrace the moment and his people. There were also a couple of hundred missed trains when he did a two-hour midnight press conference. “Japanese people, I have always thought in general, don’t express themselves,” Ichiro said. “But tonight’s experience blew that away. They were incredibly passionate tonight. When I look back on my career, I know I will remember this as the as the most memorable day, without a doubt.” And so will we Ichiro, so will we.