SEATTLE — More than five hours before Friday’s first pitch, Ichiro Suzuki was in the outfield, in uniform still going through his throwing routine.
Three years removed from his last game as a player with the Seattle Mariners in his home country of Japan, Ichiro hasn’t lost that competitive drive.
It’s just channeled in different ways now.
“If the guys on the team come up and ask me a question about baseball I want to be able to tell them, but also be able to show them and if I don’t continue to do what I’m doing, physically being ready, training, I won’t be able to really help them,” Ichiro said through his interpreter on Friday. “I know there are former players that can teach and tell them what to do. But I think it’s more valuable to be able to show them how.”
Ichiro may finally take a day off from his pregame routine of throwing, running, fielding during batting practice on Saturday when he becomes the latest inductee into the Mariners’ Hall of Fame. Being the center of attention and tasked with giving a speech has been weighing heavier on the 48-year-old as the induction day has drawn closer.
He joked that the stress of the speech was giving him a second ulcer after suffering one as a player in 2009.
“The preparing for a game is, I can’t say easy, but doesn’t compare to what this preparation for tomorrow is,” Ichiro said. “I mean, I really have a stomachache thinking about the speech tomorrow.”
Ichiro spent the first 11 seasons of his major league career with the Mariners before getting traded to the New York Yankees midway through the 2012 season. Ichiro played parts of three seasons with the Yankees, three more in Miami before returning to Seattle to close out his career.
His final appearance came at the beginning of the 2019 season which Seattle opened with two games in Japan. Ichiro announced his retirement after the second game.
“When I still run and do things, I feel like I could still play. Physically I feel like I could play,” Ichiro said. “But emotionally, because I was able to finish the way I was able to finish that kind of beats out all the other things. It just makes it so that I’m at peace.”
Ichiro retired with 3,089 hits in the majors and another 1,278 during his nine seasons in Japan before he made the move to Seattle at age 27. He batted .311 for his career, was the 2001 AL MVP and rookie of the year, and holds the single-season hit record of 262 that may never be approached.
Saturday’s induction with the Mariners is likely just a precursor for 2025 when Ichiro is first eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
But this one is special because of his connection with the franchise and city that started when he arrived in 2001 and continues today.
“When I first came here, I was not a free agent. The ownership here took a chance on me and gave me this opportunity,” Ichiro said. “And then as I played here, I knew there was expectations and I tried to meet those expectations. As I played that relationship began and it’s something that’s very special.
“So I guess you could say it just became this way. It took time. It was like a relationship and we got to this point.”