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Drayer: Mariners legend Ichiro’s 10 months of preparation has led up to 2 last games in Japan

Ichiro will be in the lineup for the Mariners Wednesday to start his 27th pro season. (Getty)

TOKYO – On Wednesday afternoon on the wall of the tiny visitor’s clubhouse in the Tokyo Dome, Ichiro’s name will be in the Seattle Mariners’ lineup. Regardless of how his groundbreaking, Hall-of-Fame career comes to an end, his 19th MLB season will have a beginning, one that general manager Jerry Dipoto is happy to be a part of.

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“We are watching what I think is a historic moment for Ichiro,” Dipoto said before the Mariners’ 6-5 win over the Yomiuri Giants in their final exhibition game Monday night before Wednesday’s MLB opener against the A’s. “In 27 (pro baseball) seasons, to be able to now come full circle back here to Japan and play in this series is such a cool thing for both he and the franchise.”

Ken Griffey Jr., who is part of a Mariners traveling party that is much larger than the group that was brought when Seattle and Oakland started the 2012 MLB season in Japan, agreed with Dipoto’s sentiments.

“Being here in Tokyo, getting a chance to see one of my good friends celebrate maybe his last time playing in Japan, I wouldn’t have missed this for the world,” Griffey said. “I would have still found a way to get over here just because it is so special to see. Ichiro in his home country, with his adopted home of Seattle being here to play.”

Griffey has long had a bond with Ichiro, who he met before Ichiro was even signed by the Mariners. There is respect for his accomplishments and how he accomplished them, and there is also the rare understanding of Ichiro that only another icon could have. Griffey knows the pressures Ichiro has endured throughout his career and hopes that he can put them aside in his remaining games in Japan.

“I want him to just go have fun; he’s earned it,” Griffey said. “I would tell him to enjoy being out here, take it all in. Don’t put any pressure on himself, just go out there and be you.”

Ichiro has been Ichiro these past few days. He has gone through his preparation just like he has before any other game in his MLB career, and that includes the 133 games he knew he wouldn’t be playing last year because he was no longer on the Mariners’ roster. For him that work had purpose.

He was going to play again.

“This has been as long a preparation and commitment on a single player’s part to be preparing for one thing,” Dipoto said. “To be this single-minded, I would love nothing more if he can drop one in the right field stands and gets to bask in the moment – not of the last 27 years, but of what he has done over the course of last 10 months because that has been remarkable to watch. I have never seen anyone so focused.”

It is very likely those 10 months of work will turn out to have been for two games, and games are precious to Ichiro. He would have taken those wherever they were played. The fact that they are in Japan, however, is a gift, as Ichiro said at his press conference when the Mariners first arrived in Japan last week.

It’s a gift Ichiro is sharing with the fans here in Japan whose appreciation for him cannot be overstated. It should be a very interesting two games in Tokyo.

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