SEATTLE -- In 19 seasons in the Major Leagues, Ichiro Suzuki used an interpreter to express himself to reporters, preferring to be careful that his words were correctly understood. But Saturday, in his first public farewell since his retirement, Ichiro spoke from his heart -- in English -- to a
SEATTLE -- In 19 seasons in the Major Leagues, Ichiro Suzuki used an interpreter to express himself to reporters, preferring to be careful that his words were correctly understood. But Saturday, in his first public farewell since his retirement, Ichiro spoke from his heart -- in English -- to a T-Mobile Park crowd that hung on every word.
After being presented with the Mariners Franchise Achievement Award -- the first player to receive the honor -- Ichiro talked for five minutes about his appreciation for the support he received in Seattle and across the Major Leagues after coming to the U.S. to pursue his baseball dreams.
"This is a happy occasion. When I retired that night in Tokyo, I had an incomplete feeling because the great fans of Seattle could not be there. Tonight I want to express my appreciation to you for your touching support over the years. When I came to Seattle in 2001, no position player had ever come from Japan before. The one you got was 27 years old, small and skinny.
"And I know, you had every reason not to accept me. However, you welcomed me with open arms and you have never stopped, even when I left and came back. I was so grateful for the chance to return in 2018, and the reason is you fans."
The 45-year-old outfielder retired in March, making that announcement after the Mariners played two games in Tokyo to open their regular season. He’s spent this season as a special assistant to the chairman, working both as a front-office advisor and hands-on aide with the Mariners and occasionally with their Triple-A Tacoma and Class A Short Season Everett clubs.
“I enjoy being around them, because I feel their passion for the game I love is genuine,” Ichiro said. “As I look back on my career, the thing I look at with pride is that I enjoyed every challenge and had passion for every day.”
That passion has continued this season, even after his retirement as a player.
“He’s been here almost every day we’ve been home, down in the cage, throwing batting practice, talking to the guys, working with guys, you see him out on the field running around,” manager Scott Servais said.
“I think Ichi has enjoyed it, as far as the transition goes. I think there’ll be a point where he wants to do more,” said Servais. “I don’t know if that time has come yet, but I can see him getting more involved as we go along. He loves the game. He loves baseball. I think it’s great he’s around. He does have a passion for the game and for giving back. And good for him.”
Servais remembers when Ichiro first broke into the Majors in 2001, thinking his slashing offensive approach at the plate wouldn’t have much of a shelf life.
“My first take was that probably won’t work for very long,” Servais said. “I was wrong. We see guys come into the league and they do it a certain way and you say, ‘OK, the league will adjust to that.’ I don’t know if the league ever adjusted to Ichiro. He was so talented and so smart in understanding his game that he was able to put together an unbelievable career.”
Having managed Ichiro at the end of that career and now having him help out with the club, Servais said there’s no one in the current game who compares.
“I can’t even come close,” he said. “The game has gone so much more toward power. You see Dee Gordon, and he can really run. That’s a huge part of his game. But I don’t know if there’s anybody I could really put in the bucket with Ichiro. He was truly unique.”
Mariners CEO John Stanton called Ichiro “a bridge between two cultures” and noted he was revered as a player in both the U.S. and Japan.
“Ichiro, we look forward to seeing you in Cooperstown,” Stanton said, with Mariners Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez flanking their former teammate.
As Ichiro concluded his own remarks and the crowd began it’s familiar "I-chi-ro" chant, the 10-time American League All-Star had one parting message:
“To the Seattle Mariners organization, I am forever thankful to you for giving me a chance to play the game I love in the city I have come to love. Now, let’s play baseball!”
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.