As someone who neither plays nor watches sport, I am surprised to find myself recommending a second piece of sports writing this month (see my post on David Foster Wallace’s tennis essay here).
This piece ran with ESPN back in 2018 and profiles one of the most famous baseball players of all time – Ichiro Suzuki. I had never heard of him before this, but a skim of his Wikipedia page and a conversation with a knowledgeable friend presents Ichiro as the Messi of baseball.
The essay is equal parts profile and meditation on the price of excellence. One passage that stood out to me:
Like nearly all obsessive people, Ichiro finds some sort of safety in his patterns. He goes up to the plate with a goal in mind, and if he accomplishes that goal, then he is at peace for a few innings. Since his minor league days in Japan, he has devised an achievable, specific goal every day, to get a boost of validation upon completion. That’s probably why he hates vacations. In the most public of occupations, he is clearly engaged in a private act of self-preservation. He’s winnowed his life to only the cocoon baseball provides. His days allow for little beyond his routine, like leaving his hotel room at 11:45, or walking through the lobby a minute later, or going to the stadium day after day in the offseason — perhaps his final offseason. Here in the freezing cold, with a 27-degree wind chill, the hooks ping off the flagpoles. The bat in his hand is 33.46 inches long. He steps into the cage and sees 78 pitches. He swings 75 times.
Up close, he looks a lot like a prisoner.
The whole piece is well worth reading.