Tireless Ichiro. (Chuck Taylor)
We understand the 21-21 Seattle Mariners
are tired. Richie Sexson, for example, who has to move from six feet off first base to the bag itself to catch a throw from another infielder, was benched during the recent weekend to "rest," according to team sources. Rest? He hadn't hit for about a week, meaning no base-running to break up that stressful trek four times a game from the dugout to the batter's box and back. Big Richie continued to rest even after finally getting a base hit in the third inning Monday, May 21, in Cleveland, taking a lead even a tall guy shouldn't try and getting picked off. The next night, in Tampa-St. Pete, Sexson had a two-run single to tie the Devil Rays in the fifth inning, and M's play-by-play pep-clubber Dave Sims called it like it was Kirk Gibson's home run in the '88 World Series. Sims was still chirping about it in the fourth inning of the next game, Wednesday, May 23, after Richie, seeming tired again, had fanned with one on to end the first. Sexson walked in the fourth and was forced to second, then actually ran fast enough to score on a Yuniesky Betancourt double. Richie would slip an inconsequential single into left during the ninth to raise his average to .177 as June approaches. The M's would win 5-1, leaving them within eyesight of the division-leading Angels. Imagine where the Seattle club might be without the fatigue factor.
"Tired" is an interesting concept when applied to in-their-prime guys who aren't exactly pulling road trips to Baghdad. It's a term that gets tossed around like the truth by broadcast-media arbiters who make their livings by sympathizing with the plight of the franchise and celebrating ("Now for the happy totals!") whenever the M's actually win one. Baseball fans may wonder whether synonym descriptions of "player fatigue" might include "penthouse-bound," "limo-sore," "lobby-worn," "restaurant-bloated," "iPod-deaf" and "cell-phone elbowed." I've heard big-leaguers actually complain about being bored spitless on the road. Perhaps fans should respect these afflictions and the ennui. Maybe it's not as easy as it looks being a major-leaguer, which calls for having to play baseball, eat, sleep, and ride (though not exactly baggage class like the rest of us) on airplanes. This could explain the stickers seen on the bumpers of big-leaguers' Escalades and other economy vehicles: "Life's a pitch, then you fly."
During the recent
few weeks M's TV announcers had been finding every available occasion to display self-pity, bemoaning what was approaching, the current road trip that requires more stops than you had the last time you tried to make it from Seattle to a family reunion in Scranton and back (that four-hour layover in Toledo made it all worth it, right?). It meant the ball club would be in five cities (Seattle, Cleveland, St. Pete, Kansas City, Los Angeles) in 11 days before a May 31 return to Safeco Field against Texas.
Maybe all concerned could learn something about stamina from Ichiro Suzuki
, who is playing his thousandth American League regular-season game this week. He's hit .330 in the U.S., about where his 2007 average is as I write this. He takes a day off about as often as Cal Ripken did, possibly because Ich seems to believe that getting paid to play ball means the "play" part just as much as the "pay." The center fielder (superb at the position after all those seasons in right) extended his hit streak to 16 games heading into the Thursday, May 24, finale against Tampa Bay.
The physical and mental discipline Ichiro displays every game
ought to be an inspiration to all pro athletes, especially certain National Basketball Association players who seem to choose occasional games to show how "tired" they are. Perhaps what the M's really need instead of "rest" days is the manager equivalent of their star player, somebody who doesn't always look like he's fighting to stay awake in the dugout, as Mike Hargrove so often does.
In any case, now is as good a time as any this season for a team seeking a breather. Between May 22 and June 6 the M's were slated to play 13 of their 16 games against four of the weakest teams in the league. The other three would be against the division-leading Angels. If Seattle can take advantage of this slack stretch of the schedule and emerge with a winning record, I'd support having everybody on the club take the day off June 7. That could work since there's no game slated that day.