The Associated PressPEORIA, Ariz. (AP) — Jerry Dipoto never met Ichiro Suzuki in person until the day he was reintroduced as a member of the Seattle Mariners during spring training in 2018.
Suzuki’s one request for the hoopla that surrounded his return to the Mariners was the news conference and ensuing activities be kept, in his words, “casual.”
“The entourage arrived, and it looked like the CIA arrival for the president. It was dark windows, suburbans, and Ichiro rolled out and he walked into my office in what I can only describe as something off the runways type of suit,” Dipoto, the team’s general manager, recalled. “It was like a $5,000 suit that looked as crisp and clean as you can imagine. Impeccable knot in his tie with the dark sunglasses. My first reaction to him was not to shake his hand and introduce myself or the like, I slapped him in the chest and said, ‘I thought we were going casual?’ He said to me, and this was my intro to Ichiro, he said to me, ‘To me, this is casual.’”
That initial introduction for Dipoto to the World of Ichiro was only a small taste compared to what the Mariners are about to experience when they open the season in Tokyo with a pair of games against the Oakland Athletics. The most decorated player ever to export his talents from Japan to the major leagues is returning home for what could be a farewell to his Hall of Fame career on both sides of the Pacific.
It will be nearly a week of celebration and hype surrounding Ichiro. And his teammates are perhaps more excited, more eager than the star himself to see how massive the reception will be.
“I can’t imagine what that’s going to be like. I want to see what it’s like when Ichiro Suzuki walks down the street in Tokyo,” said Seattle pitcher Wade LeBlanc, who spent the 2015 season pitching in Japan. “He’s a God over there. I don’t throw that around lightly, either. I’m excited to see it.”
There is no question Suzuki will be on Seattle’s roster for the two games March 20-21 in Japan. He signed a minor league deal before the season, but with the intention of being on the expanded major league roster against the A’s. After Japan, there have been no promises about what, if any, role Suzuki will have with the team.
This may have only heightened the anticipation for seeing what happens in Japan knowing this could be the career finale for the 45-year-old outfielder.
“You’re talking about a whole country that just cherishes that he is theirs ... He’s just such a special player and someone that transcends both leagues, both cultures and really done incredible things that are almost a little bit unbelievable,” Seattle’s Jay Bruce said.
Still no timetable for Ohtani
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Los Angeles Angels two-way player Shohei Ohtani is still limited to soft toss as he rehabilitates from Tommy John surgery, and there’s no timetable for the next step.
“I just want him to stay on the program we have,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. “He’s a new case study because he’s a pitcher who is also a designated hitter. We don’t want to risk either parts of that career.”