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Published: Wednesday, February 24, 2010, 12:01 a.m.

Relaxed Ichiro excited about season

Seattle outfielder has hugs for his teammates, feels comfortable around them

  • Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki swings a bat prior to taking batting practice during Tuesday’s spring training workout.

    Paul Connors / Associated Press

    Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki swings a bat prior to taking batting practice during Tuesday’s spring training workout.

PEORIA, Ariz. — Not long after Ken Griffey Jr. re-signed with the Seattle Mariners in November, he got a welcome-back gift from Japan — a 200-pound container of sake.
Griffey immediately knew what he’d do with all that alcohol — bring it to spring training and uses it to torment Ichiro Suzuki.
The sake hadn’t found its way back to the Seattle Mariners’ clubhouse by Tuesday, when the team held its first full-squad workout. But the reunion of Suzuki, Griffey and the karma that brought joy to the team last year seemed well on its way to happening again.
“He gave everybody hugs yesterday,” manager Don Wakamatsu said of Suzuki. “That didn’t happen last year, so we know we’re headed in the right direction.”
Suzuki, who awkwardly answered questions about clubhouse conflict a year ago, was a smiling, relaxed player Tuesday during his annual beginning-of-camp talk with reporters. He discussed everything from the positive changes on the team to how much some familiar faces in the media had aged since his first season in 2001.
Suzuki wouldn’t say this is the most excited he has been since his first season in 2001, but he has begun spring training with more enthusiasm than before.
“In the past, I tried to have that feeling whereas this year it’s more natural to be excited to look forward to the season,” he said.
He looked back on a 2009 season that began with the mental stress of representing Japan in the World Baseball Classic and ended when teammates carried him off the field — along with Griffey — after the final game at Safeco Field.
“Last year was very, very tough mentally and physically with the WBC and all the (responsibility) that was on my back,” he said. “I’m very happy that I accomplished that.”
After helping Japan win the WBC title, Suzuki returned to the Mariners worn out physically and mentally, and he began the regular season on the disabled list (for the first time in his career) because of a bleeding ulcer.
He came back to put together a record ninth straight season with at least 200 hits, and found joy again in a happy clubhouse that included his idol, Griffey.
“If I were to say I hadn’t worked out this whole offseason and I came to this workout today, that would not be as big of a stress as what I had last year,” he said. “That’s how hard it was mentally and physically.
“Being here this year, I feel that I’m very relaxed. I can’t find a reason to be stressed out. I don’t need to rest my body. I know my body very well. It’s just the mind that I need to rest mentally.”
He said the best thing he did in the offseason was read text messages from Griffey and Mike Sweeney.
“It’s a joy to see that because you know that these guys think about you in the offseason,” Suzuki said. “You can tell that these are real good guys around me.”
Thus, the hugs when he arrived in the clubhouse this week. It’s quite a difference from last year when the Mariners were a group of relative strangers trying to erase the memory of a terrible 2008 season.
“It’s hard to hug someone you don’t know,” Suzuki said, “so I feel a lot more comfortable.”
Griffey in “good form”
Wakamatsu said Ken Griffey Jr. was moving much better than he did in his first workout last year, when his left knee was still in the recovery stage from offseason surgery. Griffey also had surgery early this offseason to remove a bone spur from the knee, and that procedure seemed to give him greater freedom of movement.
“It looks like Griff is a lot further along than he was last year,” Wakamatsu said. “In just being able to get to pitches and freedom of the swing. He looks to be in pretty good form.”
Griffey even took part in the 300-yard shuttle runs. Well, in a sense.
Everyone except those with a medical excuse was required to complete the run, a series of 50-yard back-and-forth shuttles, in less than 60 seconds.
“Griffey ran the 50,” Wakamatsu joked.
He actually did it twice, both times jumping ahead of Ichiro Suzuki and sprinting to the finish line yelling, “I’m the rabbit! I’m the rabbit!”
The second time Griffey taunted him on the run, Suzuki shouted to his teammate in exquisite, if not salty, English.
Car trouble
Last year, first baseman Mike Carp spun out on a patch of wet pavement and crashed his Mustang when he began his drive to spring training from his home in Southern California. It caused him to be a few days late.
Last Thursday, the same car did it to him again.
When Carp went to start the Mustang, he turned the key and nothing happened. The alternator had gone bad, requiring repairs that caused him to arrive a couple of days later than he’d planned.
Of note
Cliff Lee took part in drills Tuesday and remained on schedule to throw his first bullpen session today. He had a bone spur removed from his left foot on Feb. 5. … Doug Fister, hoping to win the fifth starter’s job, threw his bullpen Tuesday after being scratched Monday because of arm stiffness. … Wakamatsu was asked what he likes about Milton Bradley, the outfielder whose career has been marked by conflict and controversy. “Since he’s been here, his smile,” the manager said. … Besides Jose Lopez’s trial at third base, Wakamatsu said Jack Hannahan will see time at shortstop in exhibition games. Hannahan also has been working with the catchers to prepare him for the emergency role there if it comes to that.
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog
Story tags » Mariners

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