PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) — No one really knows when Ichiro Suzuki will retire. The 38-year-old outfielder is heading into the final year of his contract with Seattle and isn’t discussing a new deal.
There he was last Saturday, though, beginning his 12th spring training with the Mariners, as the team held its first full-squad workout of 2012.
Naturally, there was a bit more buzz around camp than usual. More fans showed up to watch and get autographs. More media from Japan arrived, following Suzuki’s every move. And when asked about his future, Suzuki said it was difficult to say how long he plans to keep playing.
“When I first came in 2001, I never thought that I would be here in 2012,” he said through translator Antony Suzuki. “You can wish you’d be there, but you never know. So it’s the little things that count and it’s the little things that you build off, to where you’ve come this far.”
Suzuki, a 10-time All-Star and the franchise leader in hits — including 10 straight seasons of 200 or more from 2001 to 2010 — provided a show on day 1. He hit seven home runs during batting practice.
The Mariners can likely count on offensive production from Suzuki despite a down year in 2011, when he had 184 hits but batted below .300 (.272) for the first time since joining the Mariners in 2001.
“I go through the same process in the offseason. I feel fresh, ready to go for the challenge,” Suzuki said. “If those numbers were in 2001, a lot of people would have said, ‘Hey, this guy can play.’ Expectations are very high.”
The Mariners are coming off a 67–95 season that produced a last-place finish in the AL West. Suzuki didn’t sound totally opposed to being dropped from his customary leadoff spot in the batting order, a move manager Eric Wedge eventually plans to discuss with him.
Suzuki said with two Japanese teammates, infielder Munenori Kawasaki and pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, he has a lot of pride in the rise of his country’s baseball talent. Suzuki said he heard he was Kawasaki’s baseball hero growing up — that Kawasaki would imitate him and wanted to play for the Mariners because of Suzuki.
“You look at other countries, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, they have a lot of stars that perform at this level,” Suzuki said, “and when you compare Japan to those countries, we’re not there yet. That’s what I look forward to saying in the future.” (end)