Mariners abuzz over return of Ichiro

'What he brings to a clubhouse and team is just incredible,' Phelps says

March 7th, 2018

PEORIA, Ariz. -- didn't arrive at Mariners camp before Tuesday night's 3-2 loss to Colorado, to the disappointment of about 50 Japanese journalists stationed at the gate of the team's parking lot outside the Peoria Sports Complex. Nor did the Mariners have any official word on the imminent re-signing of their former star after he took a physical in Seattle on Monday.
But Ichiro's familiar No. 51 jersey was hanging in a locker in the Mariners clubhouse early in the afternoon, Mariners CEO John Stanton and team president Kevin Mather arrived in camp after flying down from Seattle and even longtime Ichiro interpreter Allen Turner was spotted at the complex.
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It was only a matter of Ichiro himself arriving to put his signature on a contract before resuming his career at age 44 with the team that initially signed him out of Japan in 2001 to kick off a Major League career that now spans 17 seasons and 3,080 hits.
Ichiro's future -- and past -- teammates were buzzing about the impending news.
"You're bringing in one of the all-time Mariner greats, so there's definitely a level of respect there," said , who played with Ichiro for about a year at the start of his own career in Seattle. "What I remember of Ichiro is there wasn't anybody that worked harder or took better care of themselves. You bring a guy like that who is a professional and works that hard and takes such good care of themselves, that has to have a good effect on everybody."
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Right fielder Mitch Haniger said he studied Ichiro's outfield throws as a youngster and can't wait to learn directly from the man who won 10 straight Gold Glove Awards in right for the Mariners from 2001-10.
"I have a YouTube clip that I was showing Dee [Gordon] when we were back in Seattle in late January," Haniger said. 'It's a highlight tape of him, and Jeff Francoeur throwing from the outfield. I was trying to help Dee with footwork. I used to study his throws all the time."
Relive Ichiro's best moments in Seattle
, who'll no longer be the Mariners' elder statesman at 37, marvels at how anyone could play seven more years than he's already put in.
"It takes a lot of courage and you have to be disciplined with everything you do to be able to stay in the big leagues that long," Cruz said. "He's definitely a guy with experience, one of the faces of the Mariners for a long time. He can help us. And any help we can get, I welcome."

Two of the happiest Mariners to hear of Ichiro's return were outfielder Dee Gordon and reliever , who played with him in Miami the past three years.
Phelps, in fact, has the unique distinction of having played on the same team with Ichiro since he broke into the Majors, spending three seasons with him with the Yankees from 2012-14 and the last three in Miami.
"It's something I've talked about with family quite a bit," Phelps said. "I've been blessed to play with a lot of incredible players throughout my career, whether it was my time in New York, Miami or here. And there has been one constant on all three teams now. Being able to watch him day in and day out, he's the kind of teammate you tell your kids about.
"What he brings to a clubhouse and team is just incredible," said Phelps. "I've grown to become incredibly fond of him, not only as a player, but as a person. So it's a very welcome addition."
The only Mariners remaining from Ichiro's initial run in Seattle from 2001-12 are , , and Seager, as well as hitting coach Edgar Martinez. But his picture is prominently displayed along with other former franchise stars in several places around the Spring Training complex, and his reputation has carried through the years.
"Since I missed him the first time, I'm anxious to play with him," said catcher Mike Zunino. "I've played against him a few times and have heard great things about him, so it'll be fun to have him here. It's sort of a good way to write the whole script, to have him back here. Hopefully he can help us a lot."