The initial reaction upon seeing him back in uniform and wandering around the Mariners clubhouse on Tuesday afternoon elicited one quick and not necessarily implausible question: Did Ichiro un-retire?
The answer is no. But he is back with the Mariners in a new capacity, officially beginning his post-playing career.
The team made the announcement later after that afternoon. Officially, Ichiro will retain his job title of special assistant to the chairman, which he had last season as he worked out daily and traveled with the team in preparation for spring training and the team’s trip to Japan.
But the duties of the job will change. He will no longer be on the field taking batting practice and shagging fly balls. In his new role, per the team’s news release, “he will work as an instructor with the major league and (Class) AAA clubs, with a focus on outfield play, baserunning and, in conjunction with the hitting coaches, batting.”
The plan is for Ichiro to be at most home games, spending time with the players pregame in the batting cages. He will not be allowed to be in the dugout during games.
Manager Scott Servais had Ichiro attend the daily coaches’ meeting at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday and had him attend all of the other daily pregame meetings.
“He’s first coach I’ve ever had come into a coaches meeting with batters gloves on,” Servais said. “It didn’t really surprise me that much. I knew he was coming in today and invited him to come into the meetings. I want to give him as much exposure as I possibly can to what goes on kind of behind the scenes in terms preparation for a series, dealing with players, the conversations that go on. It’s not just always about how they are hitting, but the whole package. How do we reach this guy? How do we get more out of him in the weight room? How do we get more out of him in the training room?”
Ichiro didn’t want to discuss his new role, choosing to spend his first day focusing on players and coaches.
“I think he wants to ease into it, but as far as the meetings and stuff go, I want to give him lots of exposure,” Servais said. “It’s a big life change for Ichi. Nobody is more regimented in his lifestyle and how they go about every day than Ichiro. He said he’s been cleaning the house and making breakfast, these are things he’s never done. He’s going through transition.”
The role isn’t completely defined because they want to let Ichiro help define it.
“I think his role and how much impact is kind of evolving,” Servais said. “We’ll wait and see where his niche is and where he gravitates toward. I think you’ll see him in the batting cage a lot because it’s his comfort zone. I look forward to having him around. He’s an insightful person. He certainly knows a lot about our team. But it’s different when you are sitting in here and we are talking about players and how to get them better.”
Ichiro announced his retirement following the Mariners’ game in Japan on March 21. He left as the active hits leader in MLB, ranking 21st all-time in MLB history with 3,089 career hits. After amassing 1,278 hits during a nine-year career (1992-2000) with the Orix Blue Wave of Japan’s Pacific League, he finished with a total 4,367 hits between MLB and Japan.
In his MLB career, Ichiro has a .311 batting average with 3,089 hits and 509 stolen bases. He is the Mariners’ career leader in batting average (. 322), hits (2,542) and stolen bases (438) and is second in runs scored (1,181). Combined with his numbers in Japan, he’s totaled 4,367 hits in 3,602 games for a career .322 batting average and 708 stolen bases.
In his each of first 10 seasons with the Mariners, Ichiro surpassed the 200-hit mark. He was named to the All-Star Game and earned Gold Glove awards in those first 10 seasons, along with three Silver Slugger awards.