NEW YORK – Scott Servais wore an impish grin when media walked into the manager’s office of the visitor’s clubhouse a few hours before Wednesday night’s game.
He knew what he had done earlier in the morning and he knew what the first question would be. But he tried to play coy at first.
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” he said.
Earlier in the morning, Servais was on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM and mentioned an idea he and the other Mariners coaches had come up with.
“Maybe you guys can help me,” he told the hosts. “I know a lot of players don’t want to get into the home run hitting contest. I think Ichiro would be a great addition to the home run hitting contest in D.C. He takes BP every day and he’s really launching balls. It would be really fun to watch. I think it would draw a lot of fan interest.”
Servais even came up with the theme for it.
“Ichi for D.C.,” he said. “Let’s run with it.”
And the hashtag #IchiForDC was born on a tweet from the MLB Network Radio Twitter feed.
“The idea got thrown around the other day with some of the guys,” Servais said. “I had no idea they were going to ask the question. It just sort of popped out.”
Servais hadn’t discussed his campaign with Ichiro, the team’s “special advisor to the chairman,” prior to talking about it on the radio or with the media.
“I will sit down with him later,” he said. “This is really good because he’s’ been really giving me a hard time. I’m happy to throw this back at him.”
Ichiro later walked into the office, looked at Servais and said, “You got me.”
But the back and forth between the two isn’t over.
“He might feel like we are even,” Ichiro said through interpreter Allen Turner. “But I’m going to get him back.”
Through the power of social media and second-hand information, Ichiro had heard about Servais’ campaign early in the day before coming to Yankee Stadium.
“I thought our skipper doesn’t like to tell jokes, but I guess he does,” Ichiro said. “That’s the funniest thing he’s said the first half of the year.”
Ichiro isn’t taking the campaign seriously.
“Right now, I’m not a player,” he said. “I’m going to be back. But I think it’s a just a joke, to be honest with you.”
The idea of Ichiro hitting in the home run derby isn’t new. Teammates and baseball writers have often lobbied for it to happen.
“It seems like every year I’ve been asked about it,” Ichiro said. “It’s been an ongoing thing. It’s like when the weather gets hot in the summertime and it gets cold in the wintertime. Right before the All-Star break, usually this comes up. But I can’t believe it’s happening now when I’m not a player.”
Ichiro did drop an interesting note that wasn’t well-publicized in the past.
“One time I was set to be in it,” he said. “It was when they had it here in New York. But I injured my finger right before so I couldn’t participate in it. But I was set to be in it.”
That would have been the 2008 All-Star Game at the old Yankee Stadium with the short porch to right field. He would’ve had a good showing. Justin Morneau defeated Josh Hamilton in the derby that year.
Servais mentioned how many homers Ichiro is still hitting in batting practice daily as a reason why he should do the Home Run Derby. Admittedly, batting practice is Ichiro’s most important aspect of each day now that’s not allowed to participate in games.
“Right now, practices are like games for me,” Ichiro said. “So when I go out there, I want to swing the bat hard and be in a physical situation where I swing the bat well. I take my practices very seriously. I’m eating two hamburgers for lunch, but now that this home run derby thing came up, I’ll have to up it to three cheeseburgers for lunch so I can get some more power.”
Asked for a firm answer on whether he would participate, Ichiro didn’t exactly say, “No.” But it doesn’t seem like he’s inclined to do it.
“If somebody like me entered, it would just kind of harm the game,” he said. “I’m not a player. The long great history MLB has, I don’t think it would be good for it. It’s fun and I’m happy it’s come up. It’s fun to have conversations like that.”
In the spirit of the fun conversation, if he were to participate in the home run derby, who would he get to pitch to him?
Ichiro thought about it for a moment, smiled and replied, “Mark Buerhle.”
In 70 career plate appearances vs. the light-tossing lefty, Ichiro hit .409 (27 for 66) with a .929 on-base plus slugging percentage, a double, a triple, a homer and eight RBIs.
For his career, Ichiro has four homers off right-hander Jason Johnson in 34 plate appearances.
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