Ichiro Suzuki surprised his fans both in the U.S. and Japan yesterday when without warning he announced his trade from the Seattle Mariners, the team he’s played for since 2001, when he first came to play baseball in the U.S., to the world renown New York Yankees. Even more surprising was that he donned his new Yankees uniform only a few hours later to play against his former team in Seattle. Ichiro went on to win his first game with the Yankees last night, but I think the most touching moment was when he received a standing ovation from the crowd during his first time at bat, to which he responded to his loyal Seattle fans with a bow.
But while all this going on, his fans on both sides of the ocean were snatching up any and all Ichiro Suzuki products related to the Seattle Mariners. Most important of all? The iconic number 51 Mariners jersey, instantly viewed as “vintage” now that the Japanese baseball player has changed teams and uniform numbers. Stores in Tokyo that specialize in U.S. sporting apparel reported that they were sold out of Ichiro products within hours of the Yankees announcement. The Japanese division of the MLB’s official apparel manufacturer stated that they received 15 times the number of Mariners jersey orders they would get on an average day. The only orders for Ichiro baseball uniforms that can be completed now are those that are for the iconic pinstriped Yankees jersey.
As another sign of the significance Ichiro had back in the U.S. Pacific Northwest is how quickly the change has been felt in Seattle’s economy. For the past 12 years, a large part of the Japanese tourism in Seattle has been attributed to Ichiro. Fans come to see the baseball player that was a recognized All Star back home who went on to become the same in the U.S.’s MLB. The Seattle branch of Azumano International, a travel agency that focuses on Japanese tourists, says Ichiro was without a doubt the main draw for visitors. A decline in visitors will lead to a drop in hotel bookings, as well as in the local spending travelors brought. While it certainly won’t lead to an economic crash of the city, Ichiro’s departure to New York will certainly be felt in more ways than one.