At age 50, Ichiro Suzuki just pitched a shutout – against a team of high school girls.
The former outfielder (and future hall of famer) took to the mound for an exhibition game.
He’s known to be obsessive about baseball – refusing to let go since he first picked up a mitt 47 years ago at the age of three.
Let’s split-screen to Ash Barty. She won 3 Grand Slams before retiring.
Barty was 25. Ranked number 1 in the world.
“Tennis has given me all my dreams possible, but I know it’s time to step away and chase other dreams.”
Do you ever wonder, when your first act is done will you hang on for dear life? Or will you leave on your terms?
“I think I’ll just die.”
Ichiro’s shutout took place in an amateur exhibition game to promote baseball in his native country Japan.
(FWIW, he was struck out in the seventh inning by high schooler Ryona Domae whom he declared as “harder to hit than [Roger] Clemens.”)
Ichiro’s relationship to baseball begins with a fiercely intense father – mirroring the origin stories of legends like Tiger Woods and Andre Agassi.
A 2018 profile by ESPN (published upon his retirement) described how baseball permeated every aspect of his life:
Since his minor league days in Japan, he has devised an achievable, specific goal every day, to get a boost of validation upon completion. That’s probably why he hates vacations. In the most public of occupations, he is clearly engaged in a private act of self-preservation.
While most retired athletes head into the TV booth or act as ambassadors to the sport, to this day Ichiro finds odd jobs with the Mariners.
He’s a catching partner. He stretches with the team during spring training. He gives the manager roster advice.
But when he retired, his former teammates worried about life without baseball – his core fixture. Here’s infielder Dea Gordon:
“I really just hope he keeps playing, because I don’t want him to die. I believe he might die if he doesn’t keep playing. What is Ichiro gonna do if he doesn’t play baseball?”
Right before his retirement, when a Miami newspaperman asked what he planned on doing after baseball Ichiro said:
“I think I’ll just die.”
Stepping away from money and prestige
Now let’s look at Ash Barty.
It’s particularly hard to retire from tennis because the windows of success are very narrow (unless your last name is Williams).
You won’t get a second chance to go back.
But Ashley took this “pivot” to define success on her own terms.
“There was a perspective shift in me in this second phase of my career that my happiness wasn’t dependent on the results. And success for me is knowing that I’ve given absolutely everything I can. I know that people may not understand it and that’s okay. I’m okay with that.”
18 months after retiring, Barty got married, had her first child, published a book and mentors younger players.
She’s moved from the superstar role to one where she plays second fiddle
“I think as an athlete, you become quite self-absorbed and very selfish, though in a good way. It’s been really nice to kind of take the blinkers off and look at things with a broader view.”
And while she thought she’d miss the regimented life of a professional athlete (that is core to Ichiro’s well-being), those fears have been unfounded.
“I’ve slipped quite seamlessly into this life that’s just like everyone else, which is kind of always what I wanted.”
There’s no right way to pivot
Change is hard.
And when you’re performing at the top of your game – whether it’s tennis, finance, baseball or tech – change feels even scarier.
There’s the identity quake. The loss of income. The sunk cost fallacy. And the groundlessness of not knowing what to do next.
Ichiro and Barty offer two models. And just two models.
There’s a myriad of ways to pivot. And that’s a great thing.
You get to choose your own adventure.
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