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Ichiro retired after a game in Tokyo, and the moment was perfect

Thank you Ichiro.

Ichiro Suzuki’s retirement was planned, calculated, and perfect — just like his MLB career. On Thursday, the 45-year-old outfielder hung up his cleats in Tokyo.

Many intuited that Ichiro would retire following the Japan Series against the Athletics, or perhaps after the Mariners returned home — but few expected him to do so without forewarning or preparation. Instead the world learned of his imminent retirement mid-game from Japanese news outlet Kyodo News, after Ichirco was subbed out. The team came first, his personal glory second, making it a fitting tribute to one of the greatest players to ever play baseball, done in his signature quiet manner. A wave to the crowd in his home country, a dugout full of players sending him off and a hug with Ken Griffey Jr. were the only markers that this was truly the end.

Players wiped tears from their eyes, wished Ichiro well and appreciated that for a fleeting moment they got to play with someone as incredible and influential as Ichiro. A man who played professional baseball for almost 30 years, 19 of them coming in MLB, where he joined the esteemed 3,000 hit club in 2016 — though many will tell you he really reached the mark years earlier, considering he recorded 1,278 hits in Japan before heading stateside.

It’s easy to wax poetic about Ichiro. Simple to discuss what he meant to baseball and the inspiration he became, but the underrated quality of his astounding career was the message he sent. Ichiro went undrafted in 1991 in Japan, based on his 5’9, 120-pound frame. When there was talk about him moving to the U.S. he was deemed “too frail” to withstand the rigors of MLB. He was met with a different kind of doubt in Japan, with coaches abhorring his batting style for flying in the face of conventions. Languishing in the farm system, coaches desperately tried to change the way he played.

Every step of the way Ichiro was criticized. He was told he wasn’t big enough, his technique was wrong and even got sent back down to the Japanese farm leagues the same day he hit a home run off Hideo Nomo, who went on to win NL Rookie of the Year with the Dodgers. All this after enduring a childhood where Ichiro was pushed to the limit by his father in training sessions he described as “bordering on hazing” in the 2009 book The Meaning of Ichiro.

The cards were stacked against him from the beginning, and still he found a way to become one of the greatest players ever. His career stands as a love letter to anyone who wants to achieve something, even when the world tells them it’s not possible — and it’s something he understood.

“I’m not a big guy and hopefully kids could look at me and see that I’m not muscular and not physically imposing, that I’m just a regular guy. So if somebody with a regular body can get into the record books, kids can look at that. That would make me happy.”

We’re left with a career of 3,089 hits, an astounding .311 batting average and memories that stretch far beyond the statistics. We might have not been prepared for Ichiro’s retirement, but it’s here — and it was beautiful.