SEATTLE -- Since Ichiro Suzuki retired as a player six weeks ago in Tokyo, the question has loomed regarding what role the franchise icon would assume with the Mariners going forward. The answer finally came Tuesday when the club announced the 45-year-old is beginning a job as an instructor with both the Major League team and its Triple-A affiliate in nearby Tacoma.
Ichiro’s official title is special assistant to the chairman, and he was on duty already on Tuesday afternoon, taking part in pregame meetings and working with players prior to Seattle’s series opener against the Cubs at T-Mobile Park.
His focus will be on outfield play, baserunning and hitting, not surprising given his excellence in those areas during his 19-year Major League career.
Ichiro didn’t speak with the media, preferring to take a low-key approach to his new job despite the presence of about a dozen Japanese media members and the normal contingent of Mariners reporters. But he is expected to be at the majority of the Mariners’ home games as well as occasional games in Tacoma, though he won’t likely travel with the club.
Unlike last season when he spent the final five months working out with the team after being moved off the roster, Ichiro won’t be taking batting practice or preparing to continue his playing career. Instead, he'll be working more like a coach and advisor to general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais.
That said, Ichiro donned a uniform and looked ready to play when he reported to work on Tuesday.
“I will say he’s the first coach I’ve ever had coming into a coach’s meeting with batting gloves on,” Servais said with a laugh. “But that didn’t really surprise me that much. I sat down with Ichi a little. I knew he was coming in today and I invited him into the coaches’ meeting. I just want to give him as much exposure as I possibly can to what goes on behind the scenes in preparation for a series, dealing with players, just the conversations that go on.
“It’s not always just about how they’re hitting, but the whole package. How do we reach this guy or get more out of them in the weight room or training room or whatever? He’ll be around. I think he wants to kind of ease into it, but as far as the meetings and stuff, I want to give him a lot of exposure.”
Ichiro joins Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Alvin Davis, Dan Wilson and the newly hired Mike Cameron as former players helping the club in advisory roles.
“We have a strong group of special assistants, no question,” said Servais.
Ichiro was renowned for his diligent preparation and focus, so being away from the game hasn’t likely been easy. He spent most of the past month in Japan, but returned to Seattle this week and now is ready to begin the next phase of his career.
“Certainly it’s a big life change for Ichi,” Servais said. “Nobody has been more regimented in their lifestyle and what they go about every day than Ichiro. So making the change, like he said, he’s been cleaning the house and making breakfast, things that Ichiro has never done. He’s going through a transition, but I think the role and how much impact [he can make], it’s kind of evolving.
“We’ll wait and see where his niche is and where he gravitates toward. I think you’ll see him in the batting cage a lot, because that’s his comfort zone. But I look forward to having him around. He’s an insightful person and certainly knows our team. But it’s different when we’re sitting in here talking about players and how we get them better.”
Ichiro made his tearful goodbye to baseball as a player during the Mariners’ two-game Opening Series against the A’s last month in Tokyo. He finished his Major League career with a .311 batting average, 3,089 hits, 509 steals and 10 consecutive Gold Glove Awards and All-Star berths from 2001-10.