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Ichiro Suzuki Closes In On Baseball's 3,000-Hit Club

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Miami Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki is on the verge of reaching one of baseball's great milestones - 3,000 career hits.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ichiro to right field - he's got another hit, four away from 3,000.

SIEGEL: He's 42 years old, and he could hit that mark as early as tonight.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

His fans across the country and around the world have been waiting for this moment. Amy Franz of Seattle took three planes and rented a car to be in Miami this week to see her favorite player.

AMY FRANZ: I started counting his hits in 2004. I watched Ichiro play most of his career in Seattle, and the location of my seats was directly behind him. And I just felt that I really needed to be present for the milestone.

SIEGEL: When Ichiro steps up to the plate tonight, he'll be greeted with the kind of fanfare he didn't get when he came to the U.S. in 2001 after nine years in Japan's professional league.

RICH WALTZ: There was doubt as to whether he could come over and perform at the same level.

SIEGEL: Rich Waltz is the play-by-play announcer for the Miami Marlins on Fox Sports Florida. He says Ichiro turned doubters into believers, starting with his first manager in his very first week of spring training with the Seattle Mariners.

WALTZ: Ichiro spent that week hitting weak balls foul on the third base side. His manager Lou Piniella called him into his office and tried to get it across. Look; you need to pull the ball. You need to hit it with a little more authority.

MCEVERS: Lou Piniella wasn't sure he got the message, but in the game that day...

WALTZ: Ichiro hit three balls off the wall in right field. As he walked through the dugout on his way to the clubhouse, he looked at Piniella and said, are you happy now?

MCEVERS: The hits keep coming, though Waltz says Ichiro doesn't exactly look the part and even once described his slender arms as...

WALTZ: Toothpicks - if you walked by Ichiro, you would have no idea that he is one of the greatest players in his time in Major League Baseball. And Ichiro said it, look; if a guy that looks like me and is built like me and has success in this game, I think it's a signal to other kids in both Japan and the United States that in baseball, you don't have to be 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds.

SIEGEL: Ichiro Suzuki and the Miami Marlins take the field against the Philadelphia Phillies tonight with baseball history in the balance. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.