Ichiro's Art of Playing Baseball : Learn How to Hit, Steal, and Field Like an All-Star
Ichiro Sazuki, one of the world's best-known baseball superstars, offers a fully authorized guide for young athletes on how to hit, bunt, steal, play the outfield, and prepare mentally for a game. Photos.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
St. Martin's Griffin
April 01, 2006
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Ichiro's Art of Playing Baseball by Jim Rosenthal
ICHIRO'S ART OF PLAYING BASEBALL
HITTING WITH THE OPTIC NERVE
"You can only hit when the information picked up by your optic nerve is processed by your brain and then transmitted accurately to your body. If your eyes can't pick it up, then you can forget about good results."
All good hitting begins with finding the release point of a pitcher's delivery--that imaginary box outside of a pitcher's hand. Ted Williams was noted for having such excellent vision that he could see the seams of the baseball spinning on its way to home plate. Jason Giambi of the New York Yankees has made similar claims, and Ichiro Suzuki is no exception to the precept that great hitters are made, not born, through hard work, experimentation, and a fair dose of frustration.
For Ichiro, the process of locating his perfect and seamless hitting groove took a fateful turn when he first visited the Seattle Mariners' spring training camp for two weeks in February and March 1999. One of the players who made the greatest impression on him was Alex Rodriguez, later to be the 2005 MVP with the New York Yankees and one of Ichiro's favorite baseball players.
"I loved watching Alex and Ken Griffey Jr. play that spring," recalls Ichiro, "and it made my coming to the United States seem more like a real possibility."
Rodriguez remembers standing behind the batting cage and watching in shock as Ichiro hit pitches that most hitters would lunge after and miss.
"Ichiro has a very interesting hitting style: He is aggressive at all times and has an inside-out swing--he would hit the ball sharply to center field by shifting his weight toward his right foot, the one facing the pitcher," said Rodriguez. "Edgar Martinez, a teammate of mine, and later a teammate of Ichiro in Seattle, was also very good at shifting his weight on the swing; since Edgar was batting right-handed, he would move his right leg, the pivot leg, a lot. On curves and sliders he would slide his leg forward to get the timing right. Edgar and Ichiro had a lot in common, though it was a subtle similarity that required careful study.
"But, close observation is what allows a hitter to figure out a pitcher. What heis throwing, his mannerisms, will tell you things--you want to look him in the eye and try to get a read on where the pitch is going."
After Ichiro returned to Japan, he struggled for several weeks before stumbling upon the ultimate goal of any hitter: gaining the ability to see the ball clearly coming out of the pitcher's hand and to be relaxed and confident enough to make contact based on the information his brain--and optic nerve--were sending to his body. Ichiro remembers telling Alex Rodriguez that "I returned from Arizona to Japan and something was different about my hitting, as I just couldn't seem to be able to follow the ball with my eyes. You don't just hit with your body but with your eyes, and the information that is transmitted is what allows you to hit a fastball coming at 95 mph [or 65 in Little League], or to be able to adjust to a curveball, a slider, a cut fastball.
"You can only hit when the information picked up by your optic nerve isprocessed by your brain and then transmitted accurately to your body. If your eyes can't pick it up, then you can forget about good results. And so, on April 11, 1999, I was playing at the Nagoya Dome against the Seibu Lions. I hit a weak grounder off of Yukihiro Nishizaki to second base, and as I was running to first base I suddenly had a strange sensation, a realization I'd found the timing and the swing that I was searching for, not just for months but for several years."
Ichiro has admitted to many Japanese writers, who have been more than a little bit incredulous, that despite seven batting titles with the Orix Blue Wave .385, .342, .356, .345, .358, .343, and .38--he never had a clear vision of how to
read the release point and coordinate it with his swing until 1999. It was to Ichiro as if those early years of success were a product of hard work and knowledge of pitchers, but never without lingering doubts about his future and the ability to be consistent. The hitting machine was not yet equipped with an owner's manual, so to speak.
Ichiro's swing depends on being able to concentrate all his energy at the point of impact; he has to be able to draw on some method that will allow him to figure out what is off with the swing so he can correct it. After that realization at the Nagoya Dome, Ichiro could finally put all the elements of his swing together,from start to finish, see the baseball at the release point, and react to it with complete confidence. Narumi Komatsu, a close friend of Ichiro's, relates that Ichiro was like a man given a second chance at life after finding his way through a dark forest.
Says Ichiro: "I was able to come into possession of the special feeling that now allows me to correct any flaws in my batting. I don't believe there could be any greater stroke of luck. It's possible that I could have gone through my entire career fruitlessly searching for it without ever having found it.
"There was a period of trial and error, but never again did I feel like there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Up until then I'd felt as if I'd drifted in and out of grasping that feeling, but now it's as tangible as a mathematical theorem, something I can grasp very clearly. Since I now have the confidence that I'll never be lost again, I won't ever be as anxious as I was in the past.
"To a certain extent baseball's the kind of sport where the stats control you.
Through 1998, even though I led the league in batting every year, I always felt pressured by stats. But this changed, starting in '99, as I was able to reduce all the stats to just another element in the overall picture and get on with playing the game."