Suzuki will be living a dream

  • LARRY LaRUE / The News Tribune
  • Thursday, November 30, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

Japanese outfielder gets first look at Safeco Field


The News Tribune

Having lost the opportunity to play a trio of spring training games to food poisoning two years ago, Ichiro Suzuki on Thursday said he would be more cautious now that he’s officially a Seattle Mariner.

What that means, he explained, is he won’t be eating ribs again — or matching beverages with friend and closer Kazuhiro Sasaki.

"Sasaki likes to drink a bit," Suzuki said through an interpreter. "I should have put a clause in my contract that I wouldn’t have to go out with him after games."

Yes, he added, he was joking.

It was a day for smiles at Safeco Field, where Suzuki officially signed his contract, made his first public appearance on the field and then held court with more than 70 members of the media – American and Japanese – as a Mariner.

"This is the best day of my life for me and my family," said Suzuki, the Japanese outfielder signed two weeks ago to a three-year deal. "I started to play baseball when I was three years old, and my dream was to wear a major league uniform. I feel like I’m in a movie."

The Mariners first announced the signing in Japan, where team CEO Howard Lincoln saw first hand just how popular Suzuki was in his country.

"When we arrived there, we were met at the airport by the press," Lincoln said, "and at the hotel where we stayed there were as many as 100 members of the media in the lobby at any given time. Ichiro was getting the kind of coverage you’d expect of a rock star, not a ball player.

"I think once our fans get to see him play, get to know him a bit, he’s going to be every bit as popular here."

A 27-year-old seven-time Japanese batting champion, about all Suzuki was given the chance to demonstrate Thursday was his ability to deal with the press — and he seemed relaxed throughout a press conference that included questions in Japanese and English.

Asked his first impression of Safeco Field, Suzuki beamed.

"It’s my field of dreams, "he said. "It’s a big ballpark, and I don’t think I can hit home runs here with my very thin arms."

Just as well — the Mariners didn’t sign him for his power.

"He’s more a Japanese Johnny Damon, a gap-to-gap hitter," general manager Pat Gillick said. "He’s been compared to Kenny Lofton by the scouts who’ve watched him. All we expect of him is to relax, have fun and contribute to the team."

Suzuki can’t wait. When asked what team he most looked forward to facing as the first Japanese position player in major league history, Suzuki seemed boyishly enthusiastic in his response.

"I want to see everything — every player, every pitcher, every ballpark," he said.

Suzuki was diplomatic in most of his responses, as when he was asked about the free agency of shortstop Alex Rodriguez.

"If I play with Alex, it would be great for me," he said, "but each player has his own decision to make in his baseball life. As a human being, I respect his decision, whatever it is."

Someone wondered whether the fact that the Nintendo corporation — a Japanese-based company — is a principle owner of the team impacted his decision to sign with the Mariners.

"I have used their games since I was a kid," Suzuki said, shrugging.

More important, he said, was the feel he got from the organization two springs ago when he spent two weeks in Seattle’s spring camp in Peoria, Ariz.

"My feeling for the Mariners grew that spring," he said. "I got such a warm welcome."

Suzuki’s career in Japan produced a trunkload of awards, everything from the seven batting titles to Gold Glove awards, stolen base crowns and a lifetime batting average of .353 over 950 games. So what was his advice to fans who have never seen him play?

"Watch me very closely," Suzuki said.

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