Ichiro back in Seattle, where legacy stands
Mariners icon content with July 2012 trade as both teams move forward
SEATTLE -- In the Yankees' lineup for Thursday night's series opener with the Mariners, Ichiro Suzuki made his return to Seattle for the first time since the longtime Mariners legend was traded to New York last July 23. He traveled to Safeco Field from the Yankees' team hotel in downtown Seattle, not his former home in the east-side suburbs. He entered the visitors' clubhouse, not the home side.
Things were different. His perspective was different.
"I was here 12 years," Ichiro said Thursday through his interpreter, Allen Turner. "But I didn't realize how many Starbucks there were here in Seattle."
The Yankees won Thursday, 6-1, scoring all their runs in the third inning. Ichiro capped the rally with a line-drive RBI single to left field to bring home Kevin Youkilis.
The speedy leadoff man and right fielder accomplished so many spectacular feats as a Mariner, from his American League Rookie of the Year and MVP campaign of 2001 to his Major League records for hits in a single season (262 in 2004) and consecutive 200-hit seasons (10), to his 10 Gold Glove Awards, 10 All-Star Game appearances and 2,533 hits.
The deal that led Ichiro to switch to pinstripes shortly before last year's non-waiver Trade Deadline was a mutual decision between the Mariners, who were going young and rebuilding, and the 39-year-old outfielder, who recognized this reality and also welcomed the prospect of playing for a contending club in New York.
That didn't make it any less strange, considering the deal went down while the Yankees were in Seattle, so Ichiro literally walked down the hallway, put on his new uniform -- switching from the familiar No. 51 to No. 31 in road grey -- and suited up for a visiting team.
But both teams got their wishes, and, not quite a year later, Ichiro seems content with it, although he admitted that coming back to Seattle brought about emotions that were hard to explain.
"It just really feels weird," Ichiro said. "Obviously, I know this place really well and I'm really close to it, but at the same time, I just kind of feel distant, a little bit. It just feels a little weird to be here."
Mariners manager Eric Wedge said he was happy with how things have turned out. Ichiro hit .261 with the Mariners last year but batted .322 in 227 at-bats after the trade. He entered Thursday's game on a bit of a hot streak that had raised his season batting average to .266. He started in right field and batted seventh for New York on Thursday, lining an RBI single during a six-run third inning.
"I don't think it could have been handled better by everybody," Wedge said of the trade. "I feel like it was the right thing to do at the time, and for Ichiro as well, most importantly, and I think it's worked out well for him and for us.
"We do have these kids that need to play and we are moving in a different direction, and he's still going with his great career, and of course, what he did over here was historic in the game. That never goes away."
Ichiro entered Thursday with 2,655 hits in the Major Leagues after amassing 1,278 in Japan, and even though his candidacy for eventual induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame seems like a no-brainer with what he's already accomplished, Ichiro looks very likely to reach 4,000 hits combined and has a shot at 3,000 in the States.
On Thursday, Ichiro said 3,000 hits in MLB is "not a goal" and that he doesn't know how many more years he'll play. After this year, he'll have one more season on his contract with the Yankees after signing a two-year, $13 million deal prior to 2013.
"In 2001, when I first came over, I think anybody that would have said that I'd be here 12 years probably wouldn't have believed it," Ichiro said. "I don't think I would have said that at that time. So it's really difficult to plan out what your future holds.
"Nobody knows what's going to happen. But what I can do now, what I can prepare myself to do now, for the future, is what I can control. I want to do that and see what the future holds."
Before receiving a warm reception from fans while John Sebastian's "Welcome Back" played at Safeco Field, Ichiro said he wasn't sure what to expect from the crowd. His new manager, Joe Girardi, said he had an inkling of what might transpire.
"My guess is he's going to soak it in a little bit more, how much they appreciate him here," Girardi said.
"Things happened so quickly last year when he got traded over here. He meant a lot for this franchise for a long time and he was a great player here for a long time, so I hope he soaks it in.
"I don't think they've forgotten here what he's done here. He's special."