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December 06, 2001

Eating crow, thanks to Ichiro
By Rob Dibble

Oct. 4
Many know me not only as a former Nasty Boy for the Cincinnati Reds, but also as Dan Patrick's sidekick on ESPN Radio's "The Dan Patrick Show" (shameless plug: weekdays 1-4 p.m. ET).

What I wish some would forget is a rather bold statement I made on the show back in April, when I proclaimed that if Ichiro Suzuki won the batting title, I'd run around Times Square naked.

Ichiro #51
Dibbs will tattoo the Japanese symbol for #51 on his butt.
As if that weren't enough, I added that should Ichiro win the batting title, I'd also tattoo his number, 51, on my butt. And if he hit better than .300, I promised to still make the run, only I could wear a Speedo.

I want to make one thing clear -- this was not a bet. It was merely a lame attempt at wit and humor. Believe me, if it were a bet, there would have been consequences for Dan and Phil the Showkiller had Ichiro not accomplished the feats. But they're too gutless and that's a different story.

You should expect nothing more than utter disdain for all hitters from me, a former pitcher. So when I first heard of this Ichiro guy ... from Japan ... coming to America ... to play ball in the greatest baseball league on the planet, I didn't give him a second thought. In fact, I laughed at those who sang his praises and gushed about how "great" and "awesome" he'd be for the Seattle Mariners.

I thought, so what if he had seven batting titles in his country? I played against his countrymen on the Major League All-Star Tour 11 years ago and I wasn't impressed. It took 37 pitchers and the equivalent of two full Japanese All-Star teams to match our 20 everyday players and eight pitchers (most of whom hadn't played in more than three weeks) to split an eight game series 4-4. Fresh off a World Series championship, I was hardly awed by the Japanese talent and level of play.

I also gave my modern-day brethren far too much credit. I assumed (yes, we all know what happens when you assume) -- nevertheless, I assumed that American pitchers would blow this guy away. I thought this would be a glaring indication that Japanese baseball has a long way to go to measure up to America's major-league pitching.

Man, was I wrong.

Who would have thought that a 6-foot-1, 160-pound dude would light up big-league pitchers to the tune of a batting crown? And unless someone catches him in this last week, this right-field phenom is positioned to end the regular season with 250 hits, 50-plus stolen bases and 125 runs scored -- not to mention glimpses of Gold Glove defensive skills.

In Japan, Ichiro is more popular than Elvis was in his heyday. Everywhere he goes, a whole country stops, looks and listens.
It's not as if distractions haven't been plentiful. In Japan, Ichiro is more popular than Elvis was in his heyday. And though he refuses to speak to them, hordes of Japanese reporters continue to follow his every move -- on the field, in the locker room, in downtown Seattle: Everywhere he goes, a whole country stops, looks and listens. It's like a bad E.F. Hutton commercial. It's amazing he can function amidst all the pressure.

I heard that one day Ichiro opened his garage door to find two television crews stationed in his driveway. Are you kidding me? I guess size does have its advantages, because if that were me, there's no telling what I might have done to those reporters -- just as a knee-jerk reaction to scaring the heck out of me.

Ichiro, like the Energizer bunny, just keeps going and going. I'm actually glad he has lived up to his billing. It makes for a great feel-good story. There was so much pressure on the Mariners to play well despite losing superstars Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez in the past three years. The acquisition of Ichiro has not only helped erase the loss but also contributed to what has become arguably the best season ever by an American League team.

Many of you may think I won't run. Trust me; I'm a man of my word. And my word is as good as Ichiro is a hitter.

I conclude this essay not only pondering the wind chill of a northeast December evening, but with a message to the man himself -- Ichiro, I'm sorry I ever doubted you. Welcome to America, we're glad to have you here.

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