Ichiro returns to Seattle, but not for a swan song

Now 44, veteran wants to play until he's 50 -- 'at least'

March 7th, 2018

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The thoughts came carefully, cautiously, as weighed his words. What does it mean to him to come back to Seattle, to see his storybook career come full circle? And what does he have left to give, at age 44, after finalizing a one-year deal with the team that originally brought him to the United States from Japan in 2001?
"I want to be able to help the Seattle Mariners," Ichiro said through interpreter Allen Turner on Wednesday afternoon at a news conference at the club's Spring Training complex. "I want to give it everything I've gained, everything I've done in my career, I want to give it all right here in Seattle."

Ichiro took a physical in Seattle on Monday afternoon, but the deal wasn't completed until Wednesday. According to ESPN.com, the contract will pay him $750,000, with potential incentives that could get him back to the $2 million he earned last year in Miami.

"The addition of Ichiro gives our team another versatile and athletic outfielder," general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "His incredible work ethic, preparation and focus will enhance our environment in many ways. He's truly one of the great players in the history of the game and his unquestionable presence is a valuable addition, both on the field and in the clubhouse. We're very glad to bring him back home."
Manager Scott Servais said Ichiro will likely work out with the team for the the next three to four days before getting into Cactus League action. But once he's ready, Servais intends to use him fairly regularly in left field in Ben Gamel's absence, and he believes Ichiro could be used as much as four to five days a week.
"He's going to play," Servais said. "It's not like what he's done the last couple years. That's why we acquired him, to bring him in. I don't think it's going to be seven days a week, but we'll get him out there. I believe he can help us. Our people making the decisions on the roster believe he can help us. So we'll give it a shot."

Servais said his first question upon hearing of Ichiro's return was whether it would help Seattle win. And both Ichiro and the Mariners believe that will be the case as he brings his veteran experience to a young outfield group.
"Obviously, a lot has happened in the last five years," Ichiro said. "I've experienced many, many things. Gained many experiences and learned to handle situations and go through certain things. As a player, you see the numbers, and maybe that's a little different now. But I've gained a lot and learned a lot in these last five years that makes me who I am today."

How long does Ichiro think he can continue to pursue his baseball career?
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"I think everybody has heard I want to play 'til I'm 50. But I always say I want to play at least until I'm 50. Make sure everybody understands that," Ichiro said with a smile.
Only four current Mariners played with Ichiro in his previous time in Seattle -- , , and . played with Ichiro on the Yankees, Dee Gordon was on the Marlins with him the past three years and reliever played with him the past six years in both New York and Miami.
But Ichiro's arrival stirred up what had been a relatively quiet camp to date as new and old teammates acknowledged intrigue over the arrival of one of MLB's enduring superstars over the past two decades.

Ichiro said he's exchanged texts with , the Angels' rookie sensation, and he spoke glowingly of the youngster's maturity. He also noted, jokingly to Japanese reporters, that he hoped to face Ohtani, but only if the Mariners would allow him to pitch to the 23-year-old slugger.
Ichiro is nearly twice the age of several of the youngest Mariners, like 23-year-old closer . He was signed due to a rash of outfield injuries, including the latest news that Gamel will likely be out for six weeks with a strained right oblique muscle.

Gamel is 19 years younger than Ichiro. Did he grow up watching the Mariners star?
"Didn't everybody?" Gamel asked.
Fair point. Now, many of the young Mariners will be able to both watch and learn from a player whose daily routine, stretching exercises and work ethic are legendary.
The last time Ichiro played at Safeco Field, he homered in his final at-bat in the ninth inning of a 10-5 Marlins loss to the Mariners in an Interleague game last April. Many people reminded him that it might be his last game at Safeco, but he felt in his mind that someday he might return.

Ichiro knows he'll still have to earn the opportunity to play, but he relishes the potential reunion in his longtime home.
"Obviously, I have to be the player to make that happen," Ichiro said. "I have to do my thing and make it happen. But I'm hoping the fans can say, 'Welcome home.'"