(Reuters) - Japanese outfielder Ichiro Suzuki of the Miami Marlins on Sunday became the 30th Major League Baseball player to reach the 3,000-hit milestone, an exclusive club that is considered the greatest measure of hitting excellence and physical endurance.
Ichiro, who in 2001 became the first Japanese position player, or nonpitcher, in MLB, joins Roberto Clemente (Puerto Rico), Rod Carew (Panama) and Rafael Palmeiro (Cuba) as the only members of the 3,000-hit club born outside the United States.
In the midst of an improbable resurgence with the Marlins at the age of 42, Ichiro achieved the feat against the Colorado Rockies on his fourth at-bat of the day when he slugged a triple off the right field wall in the seventh inning in Denver.
"My first three at-bats (my body felt so heavy). But after that hit a burden was lifted,” Ichiro told reporters.
The historic hit nearly was a home run, but bounced off the top of the wall and eluded Colorado outfielder Gerardo Parra.
Ichiro reached third base while standing up and stood there
nonchalantly as though it was just another routine hit.
The Colorado crowd gave him a rousing ovation while Suzuki's teammates poured out of the third-base dugout to celebrate the moment. Rockies' players stood and applauded at the dugout rail.
"More than the number itself, you saw my team mates come out and how happy they were and how warm the fans were," Ichiro said. "It's about my team mates and the fans, and that’s how I felt today."
Ichiro, who did not break into the major leagues until he was 27, is the second oldest player to reach 3,000 hits at 42 years, 290 days.
Former teammate and five-time World Series champion Derek Jeter, a 13-time All-Star who retired from MLB after the 2014 season, described Ichiro as one the game's all-time greats.
"Congratulations to my friend and teammate Ichiro on joining the 3000 hit club," Jeter, who played parts of three seasons with Ichiro as members of the New York Yankees, said in a statement.
"I was fortunate to have both the pleasure of competing against him and the honor of playing alongside him. Baseball is more than a game to him, it is a craft, which he works at tirelessly with intense discipline.
"A true professional in every sense of the word, this is just another milestone in the legacy he is building as a baseball player"
Ichiro made his MLB debut with the Seattle Mariners and went on to became only the second player to win Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards in the same season.
He also opened his MLB career with a record 10 consecutive seasons of more than 200 hits.
A 10-time All-Star, Ichiro won a Gold Glove Award in each of his first 10 years in the majors, and has had an American League record of seven hitting streaks of 20 or more games, with a high of 27.
He helped lead Japan to consecutive titles in the World Baseball Classic in 2006 and 2009.
"When you consider also what he accomplished in Japan, Ichiro was and is an international baseball superstar," Mariners chairman Howard Lincoln said in a statement.
"Prior to Ichiro's first game for the Mariners in 2001, the late Pancho Ito, a Japanese baseball broadcaster and historian, said, "He is a genius with the bat." Mr. Ito was absolutely correct.
"A tip of the Mariners cap to Ichiro."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Jahmal Corner; Editing by Frank Pingue)