Sports : Tuesday, January 23, 2001
Ichiro happily following his dream
By Bob Finnigan
Seattle Times staff reporter
The true test will come on trips to Kansas City, or even sooner at
training camp in Arizona, places where there may not be enough Japanese
for a decent game of gin rummy.
But for now, and for the past two weeks since he left his native
country, Ichiro couldn't be happier with his decision to play
baseball, especially to play it in Seattle.
"I am very, very comfortable here," said Ichiro, the
name he wishes to go by, pronounced Ee-she-row, as Mariner official and
interpreter Hide Sueyoshi explained, "with no inflection."
"I have no regrets about following my dream to play in the major
leagues," said Ichiro, the new Mariner right fielder.
"In fact, the only regret would have been if I did not follow my
Ichiro, a national hero after winning seven straight batting
championships in Japan's Pacific League, and his wife Yumiko are staying
temporarily in a downtown hotel, from which he often walks to Safeco
Field for daily workouts. Even with tens of thousands of Japanese and
Japanese-Americans living here, he can move about anonymously, compared
to the constant calls for his time and attention in his homeland.
He has already driven a car, an American car, although he expects to
switch later to a more familiar Nissan. He has found the traffic here is
not as bad as back in Japan.
"There are a lot of influences similar to Japan here, good
things," Ichiro said. "But at the same time, some
things are different. For instance, a lot of things are broken, like a
lamp in the hotel room and a toilet there that runs on."
He told of buying a VCR last week.
"They told me if it breaks, just throw it away," he said.
"You never heard that in Japan."
Most importantly, the food has been fine. In fact, while he has eaten
typical American fare such as hot dogs, burgers and pizza, he has not
had an "Ichiro Roll" yet.
"It's some kind of sushi," Ichiro said of the new
menu item created in his name by a Japanese restaurant in Bellevue.
"Some people made it up without even telling me. I've heard that it
will make you full, so you should eat other stuff you want first."
According to the Japanese press, he should be able to buy his own
favorite at Uwajimaya. Reporters wrote that the local Japanese grocery
company's chairman, Tomio Moriguchi, met Ichiro recently and
asked what food he liked, then noted that the player specified
Lee Pelekoudas, Mariner assistant GM, predicts widespread popularity
for the new guy.
"Wait until people get more familiar with him," Pelekoudas
said. "He's some player, and he's really a good guy. People are
going to take to him."
Along with almost-daily workouts, Ichiro has been busy
establishing himself with the Japanese community in Seattle. Last
weekend, he and Yumiko joined others attending a "mourning
ceremony," in which they commemorated victims of the 1998 Hanshin
earthquake that devastated much of their hometown of Kobe.
Ichiro and Mariner CEO Howard Lincoln previously visited with
Tomiko Saiga, the Japanese consul-general here. The player also met with
members of the Shunjukai, Seattle's Japanese Chamber of Commerce.
All this has been dutifully reported by members of the Japanese
media, of which about a dozen are here following Ichiro even in
"They write every day, which is difficult," he said.
"So I meet with them every day. This is one area I get a little
One of the reports described how his daily route to the ballpark took
him "close to the scene of a big accident."
That would be where the truck knocked over the landmark Pioneer
Square pergola, which happened hours before Ichiro passed that
In the relative privacy of the ballpark, he works in the weight room,
doing leg presses with as much as 360 pounds, which makes Ichiro
a lot stronger than he looks. He has been throwing to strengthen his arm
and has been taking daily hitting.
Incidentally, those who saw him hit in training camp with Seattle in
1999 might not recognize him now. Swinging from the left side, he used
to lift his front foot far off the ground, a la flamingo, straighten it
with a kicking motion and largely slap at the ball.
He now hardly raises his foot, and his mechanics are much like those
of most major-league hitters.
"I think it's a very good swing. I'm expecting good things from
him," said hitting coach Gerald Perry, who was in town last week
working with Mariner hitters. "He used to have that long leg kick
like Sadaharu Oh. He doesn't use that any more and I like what I see so
Ichiro did not drop the leg to prepare for American pitching.
He did it before last season in Japan.
"It was to improve my hitting," he said. "Without the
leg kick, I could use my body more properly to produce more power."
Surprisingly, his power production fell off. While he hit a
career-high .387, he had 15 fewer extra base hits, nine fewer homers and
54 RBI, his fewest since his first full season, 1994.
He hasn't changed anything since last year.
"I was told not to," he said.
Because Lou Piniella sees him as a leadoff hitter, the .387 average
and .480 on base percentage, along with 21 steals, are the 2000 outputs
Seattle puts emphasis on.
These are his chief hallmarks, along with an amazingly strong arm,
uniform No. 51, and a habit of wearing his hat backward, like Ken
He doesn't seem unsettled by the fact that neither Griffey nor Alex
Rodriguez is on the ballclub now, seeing Griffey leave after the 1999
season and knowing when he signed in early December that the shortstop
might take off.
Mentioning the former Seattle stars, Ichiro smiled: "When
I left Arizona in 1999, Griffey gave me a bat signed `See you in
Seattle,' so it seems he lied to me. A-Rod told me not to get married
before him, but I did. So maybe he got mad at me, and left."
Without those two on the club, Jay Buhner has had the most influence
on the new player since his arrival earlier this month.
"He's been teaching me English, but I think he's a bad
teacher," Ichiro said, smiling again. "He's teaching me
what you call bad language."
When he has more time after coming back from training camp, he and
Yumiko will find a place to live.
"I already know where," he said. "It will be somewhere
within 15 minutes of the ballpark."
Yumiko will do the house hunting.
"I rely on her for all that," said Ichiro,
apparently a wise husband in any language.
© 2001 The Seattle Times Company