Anyone with even a passing interest in baseball can't help but look on in amazement at the 2001 Seattle Mariners. After losing heavy hitters Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez in back-to-back seasons, the Mariners have gone on to play "a new ... beautiful brand of team baseball." Mariners' rookie right fielder Ichiro Suzuki--who "like Madonna or Cher or Pelé, went only by his first name," as author David Shields writes in the introduction to his compilation Baseball Is Just Baseball: The Understated Ichiro
--is the first Japanese position player to play in the majors.
There's an exhilarating fascination surrounding the young, sphinxlike All-Star and the global audience that tunes in to watch him snag home-runs-in-the-making from the sky. A fixture of baseball highlight reels, he's the first rookie ever to draw the most overall votes for the 2001 All-Star Game (held at Seattle's Safeco Field). Ichiromania even inspired fans to camp out overnight for a chance to claim a bobblehead doll cast in his likeness. Ichiro is much more than Japan's version of Michael Jordan--he's a cultural phenomenon (it's reported that Ichiro's the most recognizable person in Japan, with the emperor running a distant second).
Author David Shields is no stranger to the Seattle sports scene. He chronicled the 1994-95 season of the Seattle SuperSonics in his critically acclaimed book Black Planet: Facing Race During an NBA Season. Shields, too, was swept up by Ichiro's "smart, subtle play" and humble persona, and compiled this collection of Ichiro quotations. The slim volume is packed with elegant wisdom, unexpected observations, and a refreshing sense of optimism from No. 51. Shields wonders, "Was I trying to impart philosophic significance to simple athletic excellence? Maybe the words acquired a lyrical glamour as they got translated from Japanese to English?"
When Ichiro was asked to analyze a particularly acrobatic catch, he replies: "It was a fly ball; I caught it."
On why he hasn't gotten into any arguments with major league umpires: "So far nothing has bothered me."
Individually, Ichiro's "haunting aphorisms" possess the beautiful complexity of Zen koans; together they read like The Tao of Ichiro. --Brad Thomas Parsons
"Baseball Is Just Baseball
is an ethereal joy unto itself." --James Norton, Flak Magazine"This book is deliciously wonderful. It looks nice, it feels nice, and it is filled with nice things."
"There's a scene in Downtown 81
, wherein a hooker asks Jean-Michel Basquiat if he'd 'like to go out.' Basquiat replies, 'I'm already out.'...If, like me, you [find this remark] funny and clever, then you'll probably dig Shields's little book."--Mike Seely, Tablet
"Shields has located a charming narrative inside the roar of Ichiro Mania."--James Martin, FFWD Magazine
"Through his introduction and quote selection, Shields turns Ichiro's comments into Eastern wisdom, revealing a person who values Zen qualities such as simplicity and harmony and who revels in challenge, not achievement." --ESPN.com Insider
"David Shields's. . . . sense of postmodern irony is so advanced that I cannot be sure whether or not he is serious." --Robert Lipsyte, The New York Times