PEORIA, Ariz. — Don’t be surprised if, someday on a fly ball to the left-center field gap, Ichiro Suzuki yells, “I got it!” in Spanish and Raul Ibanez screams, “You take it!” in Japanese.
Amid the universal vernacular of baseball, there’s a collision of languages taking place within the Seattle Mariners, at least in their corner of the outfield.
Ibanez has been speaking Japanese since he was a roommate with pitcher Mac Suzuki in the minor leagues in the late 1990s. Meanwhile, Ichiro Suzuki is becoming reasonably proficient in Spanish.
“Last year I walked into Safeco Field and Raul is rattling off Japanese to me,” said Ted Heid, the Mariners’ project coordinator for international scouting. Heid speaks Japanese and served as Suzuki’s interpreter much of 2001. “We talked for probably three to five minutes with nothing but Japanese. Then I asked Ichiro about it and he said, in perfect Spanish, “I don’t speak Japanese.’ Then they start rattling off Spanish to each other.”
Ibanez claims he only “dabbles” in Japanese and doesn’t know more than a few words or phrases, although those who’ve spoken with him say he’s just being modest about his proficiency. Besides Ichiro Suzuki, he brushes up his Japanese with catcher Kenji Johjima and trainer Takayoshi Morimoto.
“Raul is amazing,” Heid said. “He never forgets anything. He’ll say, ‘How do you say this?’ And then you’ll come back three months later and he’s saying it perfectly. His intonation and accent are amazing. For him to be able to nail it is amazing. That’s the real hard part. If they were to do a voiceover for Raul in Japanese, they could use his voice.”
For Ibanez, speaking Japanese doesn’t just make things more convenient around the ballpark. He enjoys greeting Japanese visitors to the U.S. in their language.
“I’ll run into Japanese people on the street or at Disney World or wherever and I’ll start talking to them in Japanese,” he said. “They light up and they love it. They’re really surprised to hear it, but they’re happy.
“Then they’ll start talking to me a little bit, and that’s when I have no idea what they’re saying.”
Heid isn’t surprised to hear that Ibanez strikes up such conversations.
“He’s a great human being,” Heid said. “He genuinely loves people.”
Hernandez deal in the works: The Mariners have signed everyone on their 40-man roster except the big one — pitcher Felix Hernandez — and they might be close to getting that done.
Hernandez is among MLB players with three years or less of major league service whose contracts are renewed if an agreement can’t be reached with the club. The signings of outfielder Jeremy Reed, infielder/outfielder Mike Morse and pitcher Sean White were announced Friday.
Look for a deal with Hernandez soon.
The Mariners have said all unsigned players would be signed or renewed by Sunday, although that’s not a hard deadline and a deal with Hernandez could go past that if the two sides are close.
Of note: The Mariners’ pitching schedules are posted through Tuesday’s game and there’s a big omission. Right-hander Phillippe Aumont, the Mariners’ first-round draft pick last year, experienced some soreness in his back and hip early this week. Mariners trainer Rick Griffin said Aumont is OK now, but it’s unclear when he’ll make his exhibition debut. … With single-game regular-season ticket sales beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, a small tent city had formed outside the Safeco Field as fans began a line to get the first tickets. … Despite playing in the Giants’ ballpark, Friday’s game was played with the designated hitter. Greg Norton was the Mariners’ starting DH, with Ray Durham DHing for the Giants.
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog at www.heraldnet.com