A night spent working out on Thursday and talking with Shohei Ohtani on Friday highlighted Ichiro's first two days in his new role.
Day One of being the Mariners’ new “Special Adviser to the Chairman” was relatively eventful for Ichiro. The announcement of his new role on Thursday morning meant subsequent news conferences and multiple media obligations before the game, not allowing him to do much “advising.”
Because the news of his new role was actually broken about 12 hours earlier than the Mariners’ announcement by Keizo Konishi, a reporter that’s covered Ichiro since 2001, the Japanese media covering Shohei Ohtani left Los Angeles early and arrived in Seattle in time for the news conferences. It led to a massive Japanese media contingent and plenty of attention surrounding Ichiro’s every move, which included taking batting practice and shagging fly balls like he’d done every game prior to his new job. Photographers and TV cameras chronicled his every move.
How was his first day?
“I didn’t get to watch the game from the dugout and obviously it was a big difference,” he said through interpreter Allen Turner. “I worked out, I hit, I did all the things I normally do. But the funny thing is that I probably worked out more than I did the few days before. I got in a lot more work yesterday. From yesterday’s experience, I can safely say that I won’t be 240 pounds in spring training next year.”
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And then once the game started, he kind of moved spots in the Mariners clubhouse, but spent most of his time in the area by the indoor batting cages — his sanctuary.
“The first through third inning, I was usually in the dugout and from there I would prepare,” he said. “It’s a longer preparation not being in there from the beginning. It wasn’t that different watching it from where I work out there by the cages on the TV I watch. Maybe other players thought it was (weird) because I wasn’t there like usual. If things are going to change, then people might think there is a big difference. But I’m hoping to keep it the same and how it’s been and hopefully that’s how it will continue to go.”
Once the game was over, Ichiro appeared from the dugout and joined his teammates on the field for the postgame victory handshake. The Mariners are 1-0 with him as special adviser to the chairman.
Day Two of his new role was just as eventful. It started with answering questions about Albert Pujols possibly reaching the 3,000 hit mark during the series, something Ichiro achieved on August 7, 2016.
“More than the actual 3,000th hit, I remember the week prior,” he said. “We were home for the whole week. I just had pinch-hitting opportunities. Every night was a pinch-hitting opportunity and that was really difficult. I was able to start on the last day of the road trip and getting it then.”
Ichiro’s 3,000th hit came at Coors Field. Pujols singled in the fifth inning Friday night to reach 3,000 at Safeco Field. Did Ichiro have any disappointment about doing it on the road?
“You can’t control where you are going to be at,” he said. “Obviously the home fans would want to see that. But it’s a special moment where the opposing team and your team are kind of together. It’s a weird moment because everyone celebrates that moment together. It’s a really special time and I don’t think it matters where it’s at.”
After the Mariners finished stretching pregame, Ichiro was running sprints in the outfield to loosen up. He was joined briefly by Ohtani, who was out on the field preparing for his bullpen session. The two then had a nice conversation for about 10 minutes as the Japanese media chronicled every gesture and reaction.
Ichiro and Ohtani are not close friends, but something more than acquaintances.
“I see him once a year in the offseason,” Ichiro said. “We get together and have dinner.”
For many people, there was hope that Ichiro would bat against Ohtani on Sunday. Instead, he will be a spectator from the clubhouse, well unless he uses a disguise and sneaks into the dugout.
“I was excited to see him play in person for the first time,” Ichiro said. “But I can’t be in the dugout so maybe I will have to pull a Bobby Valentine today.”
Ichiro helped change the perception of the Japanese position player in baseball, while inspiring players like Ohtani back in Japan. But he would only speak about Ohtani’s impact on the game.
“I think you can’t even compare myself to him,” he said. “Because he’s actually doing something that’s not going to impact just Japan or here, but the whole world. I think people are interested in how he’s doing each day because he’s doing both (pitching and hitting). To have somebody do that, to have that kind of impact and have that kind of excitement in people wanting to know what he’s doing is going to impact a lot of people. That’s a big difference.”
Right-hander Dan Altavilla (right AC strain) played catch for the first time since going on the disabled list. He’s scheduled to throw a bullpen session this weekend. If that goes well, he’d go on a rehabilitation assignment for a handful of outings.
Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (offseason shoulder surgery) is “feeling better” after exiting a live batting practice session last week with shoulder tightness. He will throw a bullpen session on Saturday and then progress to another live batting practice session.