Those are the words of a former teammate of Ichiro’s from the Orix Blue Wave. They come in a must-read article by Wright Thompson in ESPN the Magazine about the 44-year-old future Hall of Famer’s drive to keep playing.
That drive paid off in the form of a major league deal offered by the Seattle Mariners which Ichiro accepted last week. Most people are viewing it as a nostalgia trip for the Mariners and the only way Ichiro can keep playing in America. That may or may not be true, but the desire — which teeters on the edge of desperation — is chronicled in detail by Thompson, who was granted access to Ichiro that no one in this country has ever had.
It’s a fascinating story giving us a glimpse at an Ichiro who, for as major a figure he has been in major league baseball over the past 17 years, is someone we know relatively little about. And even if we knew a lot about him, it chronicles a chapter of his career — perhaps his last offseason before his whole life becomes an offseason — for which perhaps the most prepared baseball player in the past several decades seems shockingly unprepared.
If you read nothing else today, read this.
We wrote a lot about Casey Kelly on this site circa 2010-12.
It was understandable. Kelly was a big-time draftee for the Red Sox and famously split time as a shortstop and a pitcher in the minors, with some people even wondering if he could do it full time. The Sox put the kibosh on that pretty quickly, as he became the top overall prospect in the Boston organization as a pitcher. He then made news when he was sent to San Diego — along with Anthony Rizzo — in the famous Adrian Gonzalez trade in December 2010.
He made his big league debut for the Padres in late August of 2012, holding a pretty darn good Atlanta Braves team scoreless for six innings, striking out four. He would pitch in five more games in the season’s final month to not very good results but missed all of 2013 and most of 2014 thanks to Tommy John surgery.
He wouldn’t make it back to the bigs until 2015 — pitching only three games after being converted to a reliever — before the Padres cut him loose, trading him to the Braves for Christian Bethancourt who, like a younger Kelly, the Padres thought could be a two-way player, catching and relieving. That didn’t work for him either, but I digress.
Kelly made a career-high ten appearances for a bad Braves team in 2016, was let go following the season and was out of the majors again in 2017 after the Cubs released him a couple of months after he failed to make the team out of spring training. He resurfaced with the Giants this past season for seven appearances. The Giants cut him loose last month.
Now Kelly’s journey takes him across the ocean. He announced on Instagram last night that he’s signed with the LG Twins in the Korean Baseball Organization. He seems pretty happy and eager about it in his little video there. I don’t blame him, as he’ll make $1 million for them, as opposed to staying here and almost certainly winding up in a Triple-A rotation making $60K or whatever it is veteran minor leaguers make.
This was probably way too many words to devote to a journeyman heading to play in Korea, but we so often forget top prospects once they fail to meet expectations. We also tend to forget all of the Tommy John casualties, focusing instead on the Tommy John successes. As such, I wanted to think a bit about Casey Kelly. I hope things work out well for him in the KBO and a baseball player who once seemed so promising can, after a delay, find success of his own.