Ichiro excited for start of new season
The Mariners outfielder knows expectations will be higher for everyone this year.
Seattle Times staff reporter
PEORIA, Ariz. — A not-so-mysterious force took hold of Ichiro and froze him in his tracks as he tried to begin the team's required 300-yard shuttle run.
Ichiro turned and saw that it was noted Mariners prankster Ken Griffey Jr. who'd grabbed him and would hold him in place for several seconds as the rest of his group took off running. It was a fitting case of role reversal, since Ichiro seems to have latched on to Griffey these past 11 months and found the missing ingredient that's made life fun for him again on this Mariners team.
Plenty has changed for the Mariners and Ichiro since a difficult 2008 season ended. And this team, completely revamped since then by general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Don Wakamatsu, is one Ichiro feels has acquired the intangibles needed to become something greater.
"I think they look not only at potential, but also the character of each player," Ichiro said, through interpreter Antony Suzuki. "And what we need to fill in when you look at chemistry as well. For the team and in the clubhouse. I believed that he (Zduriencik) would make good moves, and I believe this team right here will be a great team chemistry-wise as well. Not just in the potential of the talent."
That wasn't the case two years ago when the Mariners lost 101 games and Ichiro became the target of finger-pointing. But the new regime has purged the squad of all but a handful of players from that time, followed by one of Ichiro's most productive seasons in 2009.
Now, with the additions of Chone Figgins, Cliff Lee, Milton Bradley and others, Ichiro admits it didn't take much for him to get excited this winter.
"That's the approach we have every year," he said of trying to get excited for baseball. "But before, in the past, I could say that I've intentionally tried to have that feeling, whereas this year, I'm more natural towards being very excited, looking forward to this new season. Because of all the new moves and the experience we had last season."
Griffey had so much to do with that, helping Ichiro feel more accepted and instilling a sense of personal accountability within the clubhouse. When Ichiro heard Griffey was coming back for another year, he shipped him a barrel full of Japanese sake "big enough for him to fit inside."
As fun as things have been, Ichiro also accepts that expectations will be higher for everyone this year.
"Of course, because we made good moves and have bigger expectations and that's what we have to play to," he said. "And that's something we're going to have to be aware of as well. And I'm personally aware of that. So, of course we're going to have to play to expectations and we need more expectations from here on."
For now, one of Ichiro's main expectations is that Griffey will keep tormenting him.
"The main reason why he came back was to joke with me more and do more pranks with me," Ichiro said, tongue-in-cheek.
Safe to say, another chance to play Griffey's foil also made Ichiro want to come back as well.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners
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