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Ichiro in the Derby? Good one, skipper

Mariners legend has some fun with Servais' jest on radio show
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

NEW YORK -- Mariners manager Scott Servais was just having fun, suggesting on a SiriusXM MLB Network Radio show on Wednesday that Ichiro Suzuki should take part in the Home Run Derby at next month's All-Star Game festivities at Nationals Park in Washington.

But as with all things Ichiro, the idea took on a life of its own.

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NEW YORK -- Mariners manager Scott Servais was just having fun, suggesting on a SiriusXM MLB Network Radio show on Wednesday that Ichiro Suzuki should take part in the Home Run Derby at next month's All-Star Game festivities at Nationals Park in Washington.

But as with all things Ichiro, the idea took on a life of its own.

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So it was that Ichiro, now special advisor to the chairman with the Mariners, found himself in the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium surrounded by reporters prior to Wednesday's game with the Yankees talking about whether he'd actually take part in the Derby.

"I thought our skipper didn't like to tell jokes, but I guess he does," Ichiro said with a smile. "That's the funniest thing he's said in the first half of this year."

OK, but while Ichiro isn't currently a player, he still does take batting practice every day with the Mariners in his new advisory role and is leaving the door open to playing next season. And as he has done throughout his 18-year Major League career, he opens eyes with his ability to drive the ball consistently into the seats in BP.

So, if asked, would he do it?

"Right now, I'm not a player," Ichiro said through interpreter Allen Turner. "I'm going to be back, but right now, I think it's just a joke, to be honest with you."

Not exactly a definite "no," but when pressed Ichiro said he respected the game too much to turn the Derby into a sideshow.

"I think if somebody like me entered, it would kind of harm the game," he said. "I'm not a player and with the long, great history MLB has, I don't think it would be good for [the game]. But it's fun and I'm happy it's come up. It's fun to have conversations like that. So I'm definitely happy about it."

Ichiro has continued being a daily part of the Mariners scene since moving into his new role in early May. He dresses with the team, does all the same pregame work and then watches from the clubhouse or workout area while each game is underway.

"Obviously Ichi has been great in our clubhouse," Servais said. "He came out and threw BP yesterday. And in regular BP, he can still swing it. He's got power and he's been launching balls into the seats. A couple of the coaches said the other day, 'Nobody wants to do the Home Run Derby. Why don't we just send Ichiro? He'd be awesome.'

Tweet from @MLBNetworkRadio: 🚨 RT if you want ICHIRO in the Home Run Derby 🚨@Mariners manager Scott Servais makes the case:#TrueToTheBlue #Mariners #IchiForDC pic.twitter.com/oBoz6XFdiD

"Then on the radio show today, it came up and somehow it came out of mouth. Then [radio host] Ryan Spilborghs got it and ran with it. Ichi for D.C."

Ichiro was amused by the idea came up again since he said questions about him participating in the Derby were an annual ritual. One time he actually accepted, agreeing to participate in the 2008 Derby at Yankee Stadium until a hand injury led to him pulling out.

He said he never was worried about the Derby messing up his swing, he just never chose to participate, in part because he does take the game so seriously. Even now, his batting-practice sessions have a distinct purpose.

"Right now, practices are like games for me," he said. "So when I go out there, I want to swing the bat hard and be in a physical situation where I can swing the bat well. So I take my practices very seriously."

But not everything has to be serious with the new Ichiro. Or the older, 44-year-old Ichiro.

"Right now, I'm eating two hamburgers at lunch," he said. "Now that this Home Run Derby thing came up, I'll have to up it to three cheeseburgers to get more power."

If he did participate, who would he want pitching to him?

"Mark Buehrle," he said, obviously remembering his .409 career average in 70 plate appearances against the retired lefty.

But more likely, these days, it would be Ichiro pitching to somebody else in the Derby.

"Now that," he said, "is something I could do."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

Seattle Mariners, Ichiro Suzuki