Ichiro Suzuki gets hero’s welcome during what might be last series in Tokyo
Ichiro Suzuki drew all the cheers. Most everyone else on the Seattle Mariners did all the hitting.
A crowd that came to salute Suzuki in his homeland saw Domingo Santana deliver the biggest hit at the Tokyo Dome, a grand slam that sent Seattle over the Oakland Athletics 9-7 on Wednesday in the Major League Baseball opener.
Batting ninth and knowing he’d get two plate appearances, Suzuki popped up and worked a walk. The 45-year-old star took his spot in right field to begin the bottom of the fourth inning, then was pulled to another huge ovation. He was met with hugs from the Mariners on the diamond and dugout.
“The fans in Japan probably aren’t used to the reception I got from my teammates, but it’s not that unusual in the majors,” Suzuki said.
Mariners manager Scott Servais said Suzuki will play in Thursday’s final game of the series but may not start.
“We certainly want to give him an opportunity to go out and play, but we also want to get some other guys in the game,” Servais said. “I understand everybody wants to see him go all nine innings. We’re trying to do the best thing for the team, and Ichiro understands.”
This marked the earliest opening day ever — the summer sport actually started on the last day of winter. No doubt, most fans in North America were sound asleep when Oakland’s Mike Fiers threw the first pitch at 2:36 a.m. PDT.
Tim Beckham homered as several Seattle newcomers excelled. Khris Davis, who led the majors with 48 home runs last year, Stephen Piscotty and Matt Chapman connected for the Athletics.
A packed crowd of 45,787 was buzzing for its favorite star, sending cheers, chants and camera flashes for Suzuki bounding all around the park. Ichiro signs and jerseys were plentiful, too.
“Every time he comes to the plate, every time the ball is hit to him, there’s going to be a lot of moments,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “A lot is going on that circulates around him.”
Suzuki became the second-oldest position player to start an opener, only a few months younger than Julio Franco was for Atlanta in 2004. Several of the players in this game weren’t born when Ichiro began his pro career.
Suzuki is wrapping up a sensational career that began in Japan in 1992 when he was at 18. He stopped playing last May to become a Mariners special assistant — after totaling 4,367 hits on both sides of the ocean. He agreed to a minor league deal with the Mariners in January and struggled in spring training this year.
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