SEATTLE -- As he carefully unpacked and cleaned the several dozen black bats assembled at his locker in a Mariners clubhouse at Safeco Field he last inhabited six years ago, Ichiro Suzuki stopped to take in the surroundings on Wednesday.
"Right now, the dreams that I have, one of them came true," the 44-year-old outfielder said on the eve of what figures to be an emotional Opening Day return. "That's how I feel today."
Ichiro's tenure with the Mariners officially resumed as the team finalized its 25-man roster by optioning utility man Taylor Motter to Triple-A Tacoma after determining Ichiro's sore right calf would allow him to play in tonight's Opening Day game against the Indians.
Ichiro played just five Cactus League games after signing with Seattle as a free agent on March 7 and was 0-for-10 with two walks and five strikeouts. But manager Scott Servais said Ichiro is ready to go and will start in left field and hit ninth in the 7:10 p.m. PT opener.
"In a perfect world, would Ichi like to have another six or seven days? Yes," Servais said. "We don't live in a perfect world. You have to make decisions and go with it. Certainly, what he's done throughout his career, he knows how to play. He knows what he's doing in the batter's box. I think he'll be just fine. It's not perfect. It's not ideal. But I think he's ready to go."
Ichiro, who hit .255 in 196 at-bats with Miami last season, said his calf feels fine and his timing at the plate isn't dependent on how many Spring Training at-bats he gets.
"I just want to use the experience I have," he said through interpreter Allen Turner. "Obviously, I want to do well for the team and live up to expectations."
Ichiro said he's excited to see what the fan reaction will be to his return. And he isn't the only one looking forward to it, as teammates and even opposing manager Terry Francona are interested to see the reunion.
"He's amazing," said Francona. "What is he, 44? I don't know how he does it when he gets up in the morning. I know how I feel. He was an impact player for so long and, even for a guy who didn't hit the ball out of the ballpark all that much, when he hit the ball, man, he could change the game by the way he could run."
<p<.>Obviously, Ichiro isn't the same player he was in his prime in Seattle, where he won the AL MVP and Rookie of the Year honors in 2001 and went on to earn 10 straight All-Star berths and Gold Glove Awards. </p<.>
His goal now is to help the club in any way he can. He acknowledges he's enjoying the whole process more now.
"First of all, I'm here to just give it all I have for the team. That's the No. 1 thing," he said. "The reason I'm here today is so I can help the Mariners. I've always been strict on myself and that's still the same case today.
"But back in my early years, I was also strict with how I looked at players, my teammates, I wanted them to do it this way or that way. But now, some of the guys could be my kids' ages, so I look at them and don't let anything really bother me. I look at it and just enjoy it now to see the difference in how they do things. Those are some of the things that I've changed along the way."