The next time you think your job sucks, consider the 47 Japanese journalists who gather each day at the foot of a mute god—the Seattle Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki.
He's the fastest man in baseball with the best outfield arm playing for the winningest team, and he doesn't speak to them. He leads the major leagues in batting, is on pace to break a dozen records and has set Japan ablaze, and he doesn't speak to them.
"What we are doing is not journalism," says Hideki Okuda of Sports Nippon. "I feel very sad about this."
"There are so many of them," says Ichiro, who's embarrassed by the horde wanting to talk only to him, "and only one of me."
Occasionally Ichiro speaks to one Japanese writer—the pool reporter, Keizo Konishi of the Kyodo News—but only if that writer adheres to strict protocol. The gaggle of Japanese reporters submits their questions to Konishi and then gather together in the corner of the clubhouse and watch breathlessly as, 30 feet away, Konishi timidly loiters near Ichiro, who faces into his locker.
When at last Ichiro signals, Konishi tiptoes up, squats respectfully and whispers the questions into the great man's ear. But Ichiro, being a very humble man, answers in only the tiniest of morsels designed to paint himself in the palest light possible. Quotes like "This does not matter" and "Only the team counts" and "It is not my position to answer such a thing."
After three or four minutes Konishi rises, bows slightly and trudges back to the huddled mass, bearing no fruit. " Ichiro says, 'This is not the time to think of that,' " he reports, and 46 faces fall like souffl�s at a bass drum recital.
The Japanese reporters left their wives and kids in February to live in Phoenix and then Seattle hotels, putting in 14-hour days, attending every Mariners game. They have traded bento boxes for Happy Meals. They are here to record the thoughts of the man who was named the most recognizable person in their country, just ahead of the emperor. And he doesn't speak to them.
They fantasize about a day when they can ask him one question, face-to-face. Would they ask if he ever has the desire to snap a nude picture of himself and thus collect the rumored $2 million offer from a Japanese publishing company for such a shot? Would they ask how a 160-pound rookie sprite can become, according to Texas Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez, "the best player in the big leagues"?
Would they ask about his glamorous marriage to Yumiko, a former TV sports anchor? Or his insatiable desire for autographs? (He desperately wants Wayne Gretzky's and Tiger Woods's.) Or his being the only man in baseball with simply his first name on his back? Or why he speaks to all the American press but to only one of them? Or the reports by the Japanese tabloid Friday of his infidelity?