Before making the final out of the second inning, Suzuki was greeted with polite applause, but it was hardly the ovation you'd expect for one of the best players in franchise history returning to Seattle for the first time since leaving town with the Yankees following last summer's trade.
Maybe it was because Suzuki already played against the Mariners when Seattle traded him last July to the Yankees, who happened to be in town for a three-game series at the time. Maybe it's because Mariners fans never felt the connection to Suzuki that they did to players like Ken Griffey Jr. or Edgar Martinez, who were more personable super stars. Or maybe it was just because Mariners fans were as worn out as the team after watching Wednesday's 16-inning marathon and didn't have it in them to stand and applaud.
Whatever the reason, Suzuki's return just didn't come with much buzz. Sure there were plenty of fans around Safeco Field wearing Ichiro jerseys -- both the Mariners and Yankees version -- but heck, retiring Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, the guy who put the nail in the coffin on so many Mariners playoff losses more than a decade ago, got a louder ovation than Suzuki when he was introduced during a pregame ceremony.
Maybe Suzuki's return didn't bring out much emotion from him or the crowd because both sides knew last year's trade was the best solution for all parties involved. Sure there are fans who miss Suzuki, but for a franchise that is in the process of rebuilding, keeping Suzuki beyond last season made little sense. And for a player at the end of his career who hadn't been to the postseason since his rookie year, a trade to a perennial contender, to a team so loaded with stars that he'd have no pressure on him to carry an offense, was the perfect next step in a remarkable career.
When other stars left Seattle, be it Griffey or Randy Johnson or even Alex Rodriguez, there was more emotion because most fans felt they left t0o soon. In the case of Johnson and Griffey, any ill will eventually went away and they eventually enjoyed huge ovations in their returns to Seattle -- it seems less and less likely that Rodriguez will ever get that reception here. But Suzuki's departure was so well-timed that it was made less emotional.
"You can never say it was the best or what, but it definitely worked out for all of us," Suzuki said through translator Allen Turner.
With Suzuki gone, the Mariners were free in the offseason to add other veterans like Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez, Michael Morse and Jason Bay, all of whom have not just been productive, but also strong voices in the clubhouse. Suzuki was never the latter in Seattle, and while Mariners manager Eric Wedge never singled Suzuki out for a lack of leadership, he did say in January: "If you look at the veterans we had in our clubhouse last year versus to the veterans we have in the clubhouse this year, it's night and day."
So even though the Mariners are not off to the start they were hoping for, and even though Suzuki came into the series with a .266 average for a team fighting to stay in contention while battling several significant injuries, it's clear a year later that the trade was still the best outcome for both sides.
"I don't think it could have been handled any better by everybody; by Ichiro, by our organization," Wedge said. "We all felt like it was the right thing to do at the time, and of course Ichiro as well, most importantly. And I think it's worked out well for him and for us in that we do have these kids who need to play and we are moving in a different direction. He's still going with his great career, and of course what he did over here was historic in the game.
"That never goes away."
And sure enough in the third inning, Suzuki gave fans a reminder of what they saw at this stadium for so many years. He let a pitch get deep in the zone before seemingly snatching it from the catcher's glove with this bat, slapping a line-drive RBI single to left field.
Suzuki remembers the games in Seattle following last year's trade as being a "hectic, busy time." And while being back in Seattle this time "just feels a little weird" to Suzuki, the reaction to his return trip was much more subdued than weird or emotional.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi speculated before the game that Suzuki would be able to better appreciate playing in Seattle this time than he did during last summer's whirlwind weekend when he moved from the home clubhouse to the visitor's.
"My guess is he'll be able to soak it in more, how much they appreciate him here," Girardi said. "Things happened quickly last year when he got traded over here, but he meant a lot to (the Seattle) franchise for a long time and was a great player here for a long time, so I hope he soaks it in a little bit."
And make no mistake, Suzuki did mean a ton to the Mariners. He won the AL MVP and Rookie of the Year awards during Seattle's memorable 116-win season. He broke the major-league record for hits in a season and was a 10-time All Star and a 10-time Gold Glove award winner.
But Suzuki also left at the right time, both for him and for the Mariners. Wednesday's polite, if not impassioned, welcome back was a good reminder of that.
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.
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