The Education of Ichiro - Part 4
Last in a four-part series
TOKYO — As he was being catapulted into superstardom, Ichiro was also transmogrifying into a symbol of the assertive new youth in image-conscious Japan. He would appear at the park dressed in baggy jeans, t-shirt and backwards baseball cap, rap music blaring from his Walkman — the strains of “Fuck you motherfucker” and other popular lyrics of the time audible, if not intelligible, to non-English speaking listeners, as he strolled by.
In pre-game practice, he would entertain the fans with a flashy routine normally associated with showoff Americans. He would shag fly balls with behind the back catches while warming up between innings. During a delay in one game he sauntered onto the pitcher’s mound and began hurling pitches — at 85 miles per hour — to entertain the crowd. In 1999, waiting out a long argument involving the umpires, he passed the time by playing catch with fans in the bleachers.
Newsweek International featured him on the cover of one issue in mid-1996. “He’s hot. He’s hip. He’s the new face of Japan,” said the magazine, “… a new breed of brassy ballplayer intent on breaking the mold in which everybody marched to the same beat.”