This is one of the more popular media events of spring training. The day Ichiro steps in front of a microphone for the first time. At least it’s not boring, like some of those Presidential State of the Union things. Last year’s was downright sensational, with Ichiro questioning the team’s will to move forward (translate: win) and hinting he may head elsewhere as a free agent.
Not this time around. The clothes are a lot more subdued than he was wearing a year ago, when he donned a pink shirt and knit cap. Yes, those Levi’s he’s now wearing are designer fashion — designed by him no less, as part of some deal he has with the jeanmaker. You can’t really see his shoes, but I can tell you they looked like he wandered through a kindergarten fingerpainting class and got a bunch of stuff accidentally spilled on them. I’m sure they cost thousands.
Anyway, his clothes weren’t the only thing toned down. The rhetoric from a year ago (or was it an accurate depiction?) about the team’s direction has done an about-face. Seattle’s recent trade for starting pitcher Erik Bedard helped cement that opinion.
“We made a big trade, something that is the biggest of my career with the Seattle Mariners,” Ichiro said through interpreter Ken Baron. “What I mean by that is, it was a trade in which we didn’t try to avoid risk. To gain power, sometimes you have to take a big risk. And I think the Mariners showed that by making that move.”
Guess he’s in the pro-trade camp, huh?
He added more about the organization as a whole “coming together” in a common cause. This seems to be code-speak for the team acting like it wants to win. You be the judge.
“By ‘coming together’ I don’t mean that strictly by the coaches and the players,” he said. “But just the whole organization coming together. I’m not saying that just because of the moves we made. But the feelings that were behind the moves. The motivations behind the moves.”
At least he seems happy. As happy as he can be, having just faced the swarm of Japanese media on-hand to greet him. He did the broadcast folks first, as you see, then the crowd of print reporters from Japan in behind them. Us folks from North America were waiting off to the side in golf carts. After, we drove off and shot a round. No, no, I’m only kidding. No golf allowed on the baseball fields.
Ichiro seemed to be joking when we asked him about newcomer Brad Wilkerson in right field and Raul Ibanez in left. Ichiro said he found this to be a good arrangement based on what he’s seen from the two.
“If the other corner outfielders have too much speed and too much ability and try to do too much, it’s hard for me,” he said.
We’ll assume that’s just a nice way of saying he doesn’t expect any running collisions or serious miscommunication.
But let’s not try to dissect every word. He’s happy. A year ago — and tens of millions of dollars ago — he wasn’t sounding happy. So, everyone’s happy. As for needing to take a more vocal leadership role, he cautioned that there is more than one way to go about it.
“I think there are many ways to be a good leader,” he said. “One person might be good at leading vocal…the other person might be someone who doesn’t say anything, but leads by example.”
Above all, he said, a good leader must take care of his own business first.
“Because if you say something, but you’re not doing it yourself, you’re not a good leader.”
Will he be more vocal? Who knows. Can’t tell from what he said today. My feeling is he will be, but maybe not to the extent some folks expect. Time for me to head off. I’ll leave you with one more shot of Ichiro, telling it like he sees it.