Back home in Seattle, Ichiro ready to share his experience with Mariners

Mar 7, 2018, 11:48 PM
Ichiro said he knew his appearance at Safeco Field last year wouldn't be his last as a player. (AP)...
Ichiro said he knew his appearance at Safeco Field last year wouldn't be his last as a player. (AP)
(AP)

PEORIA, Ariz. – The home run Ichiro Suzuki hit in his final at-bat of the Marlins’ series at Safeco Field last April could have been a comfortable, perhaps fitting end to his long Seattle story. But he knew in his heart of hearts he would be back.

“After that game people were saying maybe this would be the last time I would be here,” Ichiro said through interpreter Allen Turner at his press conference Wednesday afternoon after signing with the Mariners. “But I wanted to come here again. I thought there was going to be another opportunity. I thought I would play here again. This time, being at Safeco, I just hope the fans can say, ‘Welcome home.'”

Scott Servais’ message to Ichiro: ‘You are going to play’

Ichiro kept his house in the Seattle area after being traded from the Mariners to the Yankees in 2012, and he has returned to Seattle for parts of each offseason since. He was home, but not fully home.

“For 5 1/2 years I fly into Seattle, I see Seattle out the window. I see Safeco Field. And it was home,” he explained. “It was such a close place to me, but actually it was far because I was in a distant place. For me to come back and be able to be here again, sometimes you take things for granted. You know it is there and it is something that is special, but when you go away and come back it just makes it even more special.”

If his age is not betrayed by what he is still able to do on a baseball field, Ichiro’s words tell another story. While he has always been thoughtful with is answers, on Wednesday he gave more. His answers were more personal. He acknowledged the ups and downs and lessons learned in the more recent years of his career. He revealed more of his process, past and present.

“A lot has happened in five years,” he said. “I’ve experienced many, many things. I’ve learned and gained many, many experiences. I’ve learned to handle situations and go through certain things. As a player, I think you see the numbers and maybe that is a little different, but I have gained a lot and learned a lot in these last five years that makes me who I am today.”

Perhaps the most difficult experience of Ichiro’s career came shortly after he left Seattle. When he arrived in New York he had to do something he had never had to do in his career before.

“Up until July 2012 I was able to come to the ballpark knowing I was in that starting lineup,” he said. “After July 2012 I had to go look at the lineup. I didn’t know if I was going to play that day. There were many many experiences where I had no idea what was going to happen. There were experiences where I would be in the on-deck circle and a left-handed pitcher would come in and I would have to sit back down.”

The thought that Ichiro would sit down for any other player was unimaginable while he was with the Mariners. He was the star. He was committed to continuing to play the game, however. He could have chosen to have gone out on top, so to speak, picked a more glamorous exit. Instead, he transitioned to a different phase of his career – by all accounts, gracefully.

“There were many experiences where I struggled and it was tough, but I was able to learn from those experiences and I was able to adapt, go out and perform even though the situations and the atmospheres had changed,” he said. “All of those experiences, all those things I went through have made me who I am today and what I can bring today. Be able to adapt. Whatever comes my way I will be ready to get back right there at it.”

Both Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais have expressed a great appreciation for the experience Ichiro brings. It is Ichiro’s intention to share that experience. As the Ichiro in Seattle story comes full circle, the spotlight that was there in 2001 pulls back. The star returns to take a supporting role, a role he now is embraces.

“In 2001 when I first came over, I was really only worried about myself because I knew if I didn’t perform I wasn’t going to be around,” said Ichiro. “I only had that time to really worry about me and think about what I need to do. It’s been 17 years since then. I still have things I want to do, I want to accomplish of course as a player. What’s different for me today is I have had many experiences to get to this point. I’m really thinking about this year. What the Seattle Mariners need, what I can do to help, and that’s what I want to do.

“I will give it all, everything I have gained. Everything I have done in my career, I want to give it all in Seattle.”

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Back home in Seattle, Ichiro ready to share his experience with Mariners