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Reports: Ichiro signs minor-league contract with Mariners

Ichiro Suzuki played 15 games with the Mariners in 2018, then moved to a front office role. (AP)

The first step in Ichiro Suzuki’s quest to play with the Seattle Mariners in 2019 is complete.

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The legendary 45-year-old outfielder has signed a minor-league deal with the Mariners, which allows him the opportunity to be on the team when Seattle opens the season with two games against Oakland in his native Japan on March 20-21.

The Mariners made Ichiro’s signing official Thursday morning when they announced they have extended spring training invitations to 26 players not on their 40-man roster.

The signing of Ichiro is no surprise, as members of the Mariners front office have said since the end of the 2018 season that he would get a chance to play for the team in Japan, where MLB will allow Seattle and Oakland to carry 28 players on their active rosters rather than the usual 25.

Ichiro returned to the Mariners for the 2018 season, breaking spring training with Seattle and playing in 15 games. He hit .205 with nine hits (all singles), five runs scored and three walks, but was moved to the role of Special Assistant to the Chairman in May. He continued to travel with the Mariners, suiting up for each game and participating in pregame batting practice, but was not permitted to be in the dugout during games.

The most memorable moment of Ichiro’s 2018 season was a leaping catch at the wall to rob All-Star Jose Ramirez of a home run in Seattle during the Mariners’ opening series against Cleveland.

In 18 MLB seasons, Ichiro has 3,089 hits with a career .311 average. He has a slight edge over Albert Pujols (3,082 hits) for most hits by an active player, and they are only the active members of the 3,000 hit club after the retirement of former Mariners teammate Adrian Beltre following the 2018 season.

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