Ichiro as potential switch hitter
Back in the old days when I wrote for Baseball Prospectus, the M’s gave me a one-game press pass. I’d explained what I wanted to go cover, who I wanted to talk to, and how it’d be used only for the annual, and they finally let me in on the understanding that I wouldn’t write anything about it for the website, radio, and so on. I don’t remember exactly why I’d wanted to be at that game — I think I was interested in our starter, but it’s not important. I turned up as early as I could to see home-team batting practice, and it’s great to stand that close. Bret Boone wandered by and gave me a weird look, players made fun of each other as they took their turns, and Rick Rizzs sat on the dugout bench, talking to everyone who walked by.
I was most interested in watching Ichiro, though, as he went through his prep for batting practice. He took easy swings, varying the speed a little, and up close, it looked perfect. Something was wrong, though. I watched for a minute before I could figure it out: he was swinging right-handed.
Ichiro’s right-handed swing looks exactly like his left-handed swing.
I stood there like a yokel, and when it was his turn he got in the cage and started roping hits left-handed. And if you ever get the chance to watch Ichiro hit, even in batting practice, from that close, do whatever you have to do. It’s amazing. Television doesn’t do it justice.
After batting practice ended, I went up to the press diner, where Ron Fairly held court on all the types of teams he’d played for. I kept thinking about Ichiro. I bought my food and sat down at a table with two people from the NHK crew. I chatted with them about their work for a couple minutes before approaching the big thing on my mind.
“Hey,” I said, “I think I saw Ichiro practicing his swing right-handed.”
“Oh yes,” the man said. “He’s always done that. He feels it keeps him limber and helps with his balance.”
At which point my brain engaged the clutch and I stammered for a bit before I could ask “Could he hit right-handed?”
They both nodded. “He’s very good,” the same man said.
Ichiro is so good that he could hit right-handed if he decided it would offer him some kind of advantage. Every time I’ve seen him in the on-deck circle since, and particularly against left-handers who can’t pitch effectively to righties, I look a little more closely: is this the at-bat where Ichiro does his mental calculations and decides to switch to the other side of the plate? He wouldn’t even make a big deal about it — and he’d look so natural that he might be standing on first before we figured out what was strange about that single.