Ichiro is not alone among athletes in wanting to hold something of himself back from the general public and the unblinking ears of the various extended digital recording devices outstretched by clammily on-deadline media types. There's nothing wrong with this, and while there are variously good reasons not to want to answer these questions, none of them are terribly remarkable. You might not particularly want to answer those questions, either -- not for the third time and certainly not the three-thousandth -- in your first language or in any other.
What makes Ichiro unique in his withholding is the sense that he is actually withholding something. We may never really know just how much Stephen Drew enjoys hunting, for instance, but we can take an educated guess (a lot, probably) and rest easy knowing that we're probably not missing out on terribly much. Ichiro's willful and careful management of his public profile across a long and extraordinarily public career, on the other hand, has always suggested that he was not just concealing something, but concealing something interesting enough to be worth the concealment.
Which projection is in turn a result of being given only gnomic Ichiro-isms -- eloquent, full-paragraph, interpreter-filtered paragraphs of perfect and impenetrable circularity -- to go on, for years. This is what keeps the cycle going. But also it helps that the Secrets Of Ichiro that periodically surface are invariably so awesome and unexpected and strange; my personal favorite will always be Ichiro's long-running tradition of giving super-profane English-language psych-up speeches to his teammates before the All-Star Game, but we all appreciate him in our own way. In his career's twilight as at its zenith, Ichiro answers all questions just enough to deepen the mystery, and never enough to diminish it.
But we've gotten enough that it's somehow not surprising that Ichiro has apparently been talking trash on the field, in decent Spanish, for years. As Brad Lefton writes in the Wall Street Journal:
Veteran first baseman Carlos Pena remembered one of his frequent encounters with Ichiro. He was defending first for the Tampa Bay Rays, and Ichiro had just arrived on one of his patented infield hits. Ichiro peered over at Pena and asked, "Que coño tu mira?," or, "What the hell are you looking at?" Pena clamped his lips together to prevent the laughter from bursting through.
I will not spoil the part about Ichiro ruthlessly lacing into Miguel Cabrera in profane Spanish -- well, unless I already did -- because you should read it for yourself. Characteristically, what emerges of Ichiro, through his own words and the accounts of the players he's woofed at in Spanish, is a sketch -- not a portrait, because even this late in his career Ichiro would never sit still for that long -- of an unusually engaged, empathetic, and wry adult who happens to have been one of the best baseball players of his era.
"I feel a bond with them," Ichiro told Lefton by way of explaining his extensive secret Spanish-language shit-talking. "We're all foreigners in a strange land ... And besides, we don't really have curse words in Japanese, so I like the fact that the Western languages allow me to say things that I otherwise can't."
It is never quite a matter of what Ichiro can or can't say, though, so much as it's about what he will, or won't, allow the rest of us to know. This may be because he doesn't think those things are important, or because he doesn't think baseball's peevish locker room rituals of semi-openness are important, or for some other reason that's his alone. If he wants anyone to know, he'll bring it up. If he doesn't, he will answer questions about it as honestly as he wants to, or at least in the way that amuses him the most.
As his career winds down, this may be his final victory -- the way every Ichiro Secret that's revealed suggests that there are other, cooler ones we don't know, and probably never will. He has very little left, truthfully, and somehow still leaves everyone wanting at least a little bit more.