PEORIA, Ariz. - The workout ended just before noon, and Ichiro Suzuki didn't address the media for another 21/2 hours - but Jack Cust waited.
In a Seattle Mariners clubhouse that slowly emptied, Ichiro did his post-workout routine, keeping that 5-foot-11, 172-pound body limber and strong.
Cust, all 6-foot-1, 250 pounds of him, waited.
When Ichiro had dressed and called in the media, he was wearing tight jeans, rolled to mid-calf, a red belt that matched his baseball cap and high-top tennis shoes. With the interview in progress, Cust appeared.
Dressed in baggy jeans – rolled to mid-shin – and ugly high-tops, he sat across from Ichiro and waited. A moment later, the perennial All-Star outfielder began laughing.
No two men on the team look less alike, and Ichiro was asked what he thought of Cust’s look.
“I’m the good sample, he’s the bad sample,” Ichiro said. “It’s like in those magazines that have good and bad fashion. I’d be on the good side.”
It was the first full-squad workout of the spring for Seattle, Ichiro’s first full day in camp, and a blustery, rainy, cool workout at that.
Ichiro said every “first day” brings hope for teams, even those that lost 101 games the season before. He talked about the new faces in camp, the old teammates he hadn’t seen since October.
And then Cust made him laugh.
Opening his 11th big-league season next month, Ichiro said his offseason preparation has changed each year, that his body tells him what he must do to be ready, to stay at the level he wants.
Asked if he might be feeling his age at 37, Ichiro stared through dark glasses at a group of reporters surrounding him.
“Looking at the media, I feel the age,” he deadpanned.
Ichiro liked new-manager Eric Wedge’s first state-of-the-team address, and the man himself.
“The skipper has a strong heart,” Ichiro said. “He will come right after you, which is what this team needs. He has a big picture in mind. He’s a different type of manager.”
Speaking through a translator, Ichiro dropped a few, well, Ichi-isms.
“I don’t just think with my mind,” he said at one point. “My body is a sensor. It tells me what I must do.”
And then there was a question about his golf game, taken up this offseason. How was it? Ichiro answered in English.
“Sucks,” he said.
On a team where no one but Ichiro batted as high as .300 last year, that same word was often used about the Mariners’ offense. Ichiro hit .315, piling up – yawn – 214 hits and stealing 42 bases.
Will the 2011 Mariners be a better team?
“I don’t remember bad memories, that’s how I operate,” he said of 2010. “We have a new team compared to last year.
“We must find what it is we need to work on, we must find where we need to go.”
Someone asked Ichiro’s thoughts on the first 10 years of his career.
“It doesn’t feel like I’ve played too long,” he said. “Let’s say I’m halfway to where I want to be.”
Asked what he remembered about Ichiro from the opposing dugout in Cleveland, manager Eric Wedge laughed.
“I know it seemed like he came up seven times a game,” Wedge said. “He was just a complete player – at the plate, in the outfield or on the bases. The level of preparation he maintains is remarkable.”
Wind made outfield drills a challenge, although Ichiro and Franklin Gutierrez made it look effortless. Without the same style or grace, designated hitter Cust ran down fly balls, too. Told he’d looked good, Cust deadpanned: “Yeah, that’ll last until my glove remembers who I am.” Tacoma Rainiers manager Daren Brown is in camp and staying in touch with his four-month-old first child, Chloe Lynn, and wife Cindy via Skype on his laptop. At home in Texas, Cindy puts Brown up on their 50-inch television so Chloe can see her daddy. When she’s talkative, he says, they’ll stay on for 45 minutes. Erik Bedard threw his scheduled bullpen session without event. “He’s been fun to watch,” Wedge said. “I’m very pleased with what we’ve seen in his first three bullpens.” Historic workout: Under Wedge, the Mariners put all seven fields on their complex to use on the same day – the first time that’s ever happened. Tough day for those who loved Dave Niehaus. Saturday was his 76th birthday.