PEORIA, Ariz. – It has been a ritual of spring when the Seattle Mariners arrive in camp since 2001: Ichiro Suzuki works out and then holds two mini-press conferences – one with the American media, a second with the Japanese.
On Saturday, Ichiro was one of 67 players in camp for the Mariners, though no one else had 30 members of the international press waiting for them afterward.
Ichiro did, and the questions were not unexpected, nor was his sartorial sense of style. Ichiro wore Italian jeans that came to mid calf, socks that were striped white orange and green, and tan high-topped tennis shoes.
Few members of the press were in such eye-catching garb, but the questions flowed anyway.
How did he feel about coming back after the worst season of his career – a year in which he batted .272?
“Last year was a tough year, don’t get me wrong. My expectations this year are very high,” Ichiro said. “If those numbers were in ’01, a lot of people would have said, ‘Hey, this guy can’t play.’ In other words, the expectation is very high.”
Does it bother him that this is the last year of his contract with the Mariners?
“It’s not necessary to talk about a new contract. It won’t change my approach,” Ichiro said.
How much longer did the 38-year-old outfielder see himself playing?
“It’s hard to say. I did not believe in 2001 that I’d still be here in 2012. I might have wished it, but you never know,” he said.
Ichiro’s thoughts on opening the 2012 season with two exhibition games, then two regular-season games in Japan?
“Starting in Japan will be a new experience, for me and the team. It’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said.
After failing to collect 200 hits, bat .300, win a Gold Glove or make the All-Star team for the first time in his North American career, had Ichiro made any changes in his workout routine?
“Every year is different, and I will have a different routine this year,” he said.
Had he given thought to manager Eric Wedge’s comments that he might not bat leadoff for Seattle?
“It’s too early to talk about, this was the first workout today. I’m always prepared for a new challenge. As a player, you go all out no matter your role,” Ichiro said.
If he was asked to bat second or third in the order, would he adjust his hitting style to the new job?
“It would be tough to change my hitting style because I hit in another spot. It’s not easy to change,” Ichiro said.
Did he take particular pride in the success of Japanese players in the major leagues and the continued interest by big-league baseball, including new teammates Hisashi Iwakuma and Munenori Kawasaki?
“I have a lot of pride in my country, but compared to the Dominican (Republic) or Venezuela, we’re not there yet,” Ichiro said.