Ichiro: Wearing M's uniform again was 'special'

Mariners icon 'touched' by outpouring of support in spring debut

March 12th, 2018

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The box score says went 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts in his first Cactus League game back with the Mariners on Sunday, but his heart said something different after he just missed a possible double down the right-field line and hit a hard line drive right at the left fielder in a 6-5 loss to the Reds.

This wasn't a typical spring debut for the 44-year-old, who was greeted by loud ovations from the crowd of 8,499 at Peoria Stadium at every turn.

"I was very touched and just happy," Ichiro said through interpreter Allen Turner.

He also looked like he hadn't missed a beat, despite having worked out with the club just three days since signing a one-year, $750,000 deal as a free agent.

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Facing three different pitchers, Ichiro saw 20 pitches in his three at-bats, twice working the count full before striking out looking in the first and on a foul tip in the fourth. And his lineout to left came on a 3-1 count in the second.

"It felt good. Really good," he said of his at-bats. "There's only so much you can do outside of actual games to help you get ready. So it was just great practice to be out there and get some at-bats. More than that, for me it was just a special moment to wear the Mariners uniform again and be out on the field. That was very special for me today."

Manager Scott Servais said he'll have Ichiro back in the lineup again Monday night against the White Sox at Peoria Stadium.

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"I thought Ichi looked good," Servais said. "His timing at the plate wasn't bad at all. He hit a couple balls OK -- the ball just foul and the lineout. I thought he looked good the first day out there. We'll get him back out there [Monday] as well. Back-to-back days and then see where he's at from there. I liked what I saw. He had a good idea of the strike zone, like he always does. About what I expected."

Ichiro acknowledged a few things were far different from his first Cactus League appearance with the Mariners in 2001, when he first came to the Majors at 27.

"Coming back this time was definitely special," he said. "The first time, I had so much I had to worry about. It was tough, my first Spring Training here. A lot of pressure. It's definitely different now."

Among the big differences? Mitch Haniger is now the Mariners right fielder. Ichiro is playing left field, signed to replace the injured Ben Gamel. He didn't get tested there Sunday, other than the initial challenge of running to a different spot than he had during his 12 seasons in Seattle.

"When I was in Miami, that happened once where I was playing left field and I actually ran to right," he said with a laugh. "So I have to remind myself."

Among the interested viewers Sunday was Reds manager Bryan Price, the Mariners pitching coach during Ichiro's first six seasons in Seattle.

"He's had a long, distinctive career here and I'm sure is going into the Hall of Fame as a Seattle Mariner," Price said. "And having had the opportunity to see him play in the National League in the last few years, he's still doing some really good things. He's playing some really strong defense, he runs well and he can hit off the bench. That's not an easy thing to do. It doesn't matter how much experience you have.

"I think he wants to play until he's 75, I think that's what I last heard. And he might do it. Who knows? I'm happy for him."

Though Ichiro led off Sunday's game with Dee Gordon having the day off, he'll hit "more toward the bottom of the lineup" in regular-season action when the full Mariners crew is in play. And Servais keeps noting that the veteran will provide more than just hits.

"There are so many ways Ich can help us win," Servais said. "I've explained to him, he doesn't have to hit .400. Adding in the clubhouse, playing good defense, helping our guys along the way -- and we all know he's going to get his hits. There's a lot of ways he can help us."