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02/19/11 7:20 PM EST
Ichiro eager to get 11th season under way
By Greg Johns / MLB.com
PEORIA, Ariz. -- It's not easy to stump Ichiro Suzuki, but what we learned on Saturday is the veteran outfielder isn't getting much better at his golf game. Nor, it seems, is he the only fashion mogul in the Mariners' clubhouse. In a 15-minute interview with the media following the first day of his 11th Spring Training in a Seattle uniform, the 37-year-old Japanese star used only one word of English. "Sucks," Ichiro said when asked about his golf game. Then, in Japanese, the man with a decade straight of 200-hit seasons in the Major Leagues explained his challenge. "It's hard to hit a ball that is still," he said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. Surrounded by reporters, Ichiro sat at his locker wearing skin-tight jeans rolled up to mid-calf, exposing green-striped socks and sneakers that zipped up in the back. Eventually he noticed new teammate Jack Cust, a physical polar opposite of the slender Ichiro, sitting at his nearby locker with his own rolled-up jeans showing off beefy calves in the biggest fashion faux pas imaginable. After Cust fist-bumped a howling Ichiro and told him he'd try to match his thin leather belt tomorrow, the gauntlet was laid down. "To break it down, I'm the good sample and he's the bad sample," Ichiro said of the fashion battle. "If you see a magazine where it says good and bad, I'd be on the good side." Ichiro has long been on the good side of anything to do with baseball. The 10-time All-Star needs four hits to surpass Edgar Martinez as the all-time leader in Mariners history, his 2,244 coming in 467 fewer games than Martinez played. Ichiro said Saturday that, even at 37, he has made only "minor adjustments" to his offseason conditioning. He indicated a short memory wiped away last season's 101-loss frustration and that he's eager to begin his 11th season in Seattle. "Every first Spring Training day is always a good day," he said. "We have new teammates, meeting your old teammates, new faces. The weather wasn't typical because we had rain today, which was unfortunate. But besides that, it's a new start and you have a lot of hope. That's how I felt today, as always." That hope is bolstered by his initial impression of Eric Wedge, who becomes his eighth manager since arriving in Seattle in 2001. Wedge addressed the Mariners before Saturday's first full-squad workout and spoke strongly about a team-first approach and professionalism that suits Ichiro well. "He's not the kind of guy that will sway," Ichiro said. "He's got his own strong feelings and will come right after you, which is good and what this team needs. "My impressions were he has such a strong base that it's not just him talking with his emotions. I think he has a very big and long picture in his mind and is definitely a different type of manager than we've had in the past. So I've had a good impression." Ichiro long ago left an imprint on Wedge, who managed against him for seven years in the American League while with Cleveland. Wedge wasn't surprised that his new leadoff hitter showed up in prime shape and ready to roll. "The two things that stick out with Ichiro for me are just the level of preparation he maintains on a day-to-day basis and the routine he keeps that enables him to be consistent with his work and mindset," said Wedge. "Obviously the performance speaks for itself. "It seemed like every time we played Seattle, Ichiro was up seven, eight times per game." Ichiro has, by far, the most hits in Major League Baseball since his arrival, with Derek Jeter 326 behind his 2,244. The question is how much longer can he go? How many more hits are in the black bat he brandishes in his familiar point-and-pose before each at-bat? "It doesn't feel like I've played too long," Ichiro said. "Maybe I can say I'm halfway there."