February 24, 2010 in Sports

M’s Ichiro at ease in clubhouse

All-Star right fielder likes direction of team and Griffey’s shenanigans
Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki shares a laugh with teammates during warm-ups at Seattle’s baseball spring training facility in Peoria, Ariz.
(Full-size photo)

PEORIA, Ariz. – Ichiro Suzuki can talk about separating the way last season ended from the start of a new year, but all indications are that the good vibes will linger with the nine-time All-Star.

The Seattle Mariners won their final game of 2009, finishing with 85 wins, and had the fans at Safeco Field wishing the season could go on. Teammates carried Ichiro, the team’s biggest star, off the field on their shoulders.

Fast forward to Monday and Tuesday, with Ichiro returning the love through a lot of hugs and handshakes and joking with his teammates in a jovial clubhouse and on the field.

Ichiro was particularly glad to see Ken Griffey Jr. Junior held Ichiro back from starting his shuttle run during Tuesday’s workout on purpose, drawing laughter from onlookers.

Later, as Ichiro ran, Griffey jogged alongside, egging him on.

“I think he came back this year to do that to me,” Ichiro said through an interpreter. “He said he needed to do more against me than last year, so I guess this is a good start for him.

“I wasn’t missing it at all, but I was prepared for it.”

Let the fun begin again in what was last year a good-time environment among the Mariners.

“I feel very comfortable this year because when you talk about the coaches we’ve been having, new coaches almost every year, that’s what it seems like. But this year, we have one new coach but besides that everyone’s all here. Besides that, it’s hard to hug someone you don’t know,” Ichiro said.

Ichiro is in his 10th major league season. The right fielder spoke following the Mariners’ first full team workout of spring training, held under sunny skies after three days of limited schedules because of rain. The biggest surprise of Day One was regular second baseman Jose Lopez taking ground balls at third, while Chone Figgins, presumably signed in the offseason to play third, was working at second base.

“We’re just looking to see what our different options are,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said.

Figgins is among the several new faces with the Mariners this season, including starting pitcher Cliff Lee, infielders Casey Kotchman and Ryan Garko and outfielders Milton Bradley and Eric Byrnes. And as always there is a large contingent of young players trying to make the final roster.

“Obviously, with the roster situation and very few jobs available, which everybody realizes,” manager Don Wakamatsu said, “sometimes you don’t get a chance to know the younger players. Looking at last year and the impact that so many of the younger players (made), now there’s a greater comfort level or an understanding of a lot of players in our system, which is where we’d like to head.”

Ichiro was kept abreast of all of the moves his team made in the offseason and feels good about the pieces Zduriencik added to the club.

“I think he not just looks at potential, but the character of each player and what we need to fill in with chemistry as well,” Ichiro said.

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