Seattle center fielder Ichiro Suzuki was named the game's most valuable player following a superb three-hit performance that included the first inside-the-park home run in All-Star history.
What made that day particularly special, though, was the soon-to-be-confirmed rumor that Ichiro had signed a five-year contract extension with the Mariners.
Ichiro is the man in the Pacific Northwest. He is the shining star of the Seattle sports scene—a man whose talent, hustle, and desire have endeared him to the city from his first game in 2001.
From a baseball standpoint, he is the motor that drives the Mariners offense. The man set the all-time single season hits record in 2004. He's a speed demon on the bases who can manufacture a run out of thin air.
On defense, he catches anything remotely near him and possesses a throwing arm that is the stuff of legends.
Thus, much of the talk in Seattle over the first half of the baseball season revolved around whether Ichiro would re-sign with the Mariners, be traded midway through 2007, or opt for free agency at year's end.
The situation looked grim when Ichiro stated in spring training that he'd like to test the free market, something he'd never had the chance to do in his baseball career.
But with the Mariners' improbable early-season success—including a home sweep of the Boston Red Sox amidst an eight-game winning streak—it began to look more likely that Ichiro would stay.
Watching Ichiro in the All-Star Game was a thing of beauty. It had become increasingly rare in recent years to see Ichiro smiling or having fun, as the consistent losing by the Mariners took its toll on his motivation.
But he had a massive grin on his face after flying around the bases for the inside-the-park homer that clinched his All-Star MVP trophy.
Fittingly, it was Ken Griffey Jr. who couldn't corral Ichiro's drive to right field. The symbol of the Mariners' past glory gave way to its present—and, thankfully, its future.
Ichiro committing to the M's for five more years gave me the most pure joy I experienced in sports this year.
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