Mariners excited to welcome Ichiro back into the clubhouse
PEORIA, Ariz. – There was excitement in and around the Mariners clubhouse Tuesday, but no Ichiro. While his one-year deal had yet to be completed and announced by the team, Ichiro’s soon-to-be teammates were ready to welcome No. 51, whose jersey was hanging in a locker in the Robinson Cano section of the clubhouse.
“I actually got a text from my brother-in- law and it just said, ‘Ichiro, huh?’ And I said ‘What are you talking about?'” said Mariners catcher Mike Zunino. “It’s just sort of a fitting place for him to sign this year and I think he can bring lot to the table for us. Obviously some guys have a track record with him. I’ve heard great things about him. I hope he can come in and help us out. It will be fun to have him a part of this team.”
Felix Hernandez, one of the seven current Mariners (and one Mariners coach) to have previously been a teammate of Ichiro’s, is a believer in what the outfielder can do even at age 44.
“I tell you one thing – he’s not going to come here and not produce. He’s going to produce,” Felix said. “It will be fun to have him. It will be good.”
For the younger outfielders, it will be their first up-close exposure to Ichiro.
“I’m excited to play with a Hall of Fame type player – another one. That’s awesome,” Mitch Haniger said. “I’m looking forward to picking his brain.”
Ichiro can also look forward to questions from Ben Gamel, whose injury opened the door for his return.
“Who didn’t?” Gamel answered when asked if Ichiro was someone he watched growing up. “He’s a left-handed hitter, a guy that got 3,000 hits, then I think he got another 3,000 in Japan? (Editor’s note: Actually 1,278 in Japan.) That’s incredible.
“It will be awesome,” Gamel added. “Awesome to say I was teammates with Ichiro and stuff like that.”
Kyle Seager knows firsthand the impact Ichiro can have on younger teammates as he was a rookie teammate of Ichiro’s seven years ago.
“I got a lot out of it,” Seager remembered. “He’s a guy who’s taken unbelievable care of himself. He’s works unbelievably hard. You see him and, wow, look at what he has done in this game. He’s in here doing all this other stuff, I’m new, I just got called up, I need to be working like that. It’s a very positive thing for us.”
And now that Seager is a veteran getting ready to play his 30-year-old season, he appreciates the work he saw Ichiro put in even more.
“There’s a reason he’s able to be playing at 44 and I’ll be probably sitting on a couch somewhere. It’s a big difference there. Ten years from now, I’m going to be asking him for tickets so it’s a good thing,” he said with a laugh. “It’s going to be pretty cool to be around him again.”