Some of you may have already heard the story about how Jack Cust temporarily broke up Ichiro’s first session with reporters today. Cust was seated at the locker once occupied by Ken Griffey Jr. — directly across from Ichiro — and had his jeans rolled up atop his ankles while wearing a pair of high-top sneakers. Yeah, it looked like he was doing an Ichiro fashion immitation.
And Ichiro, when it was pointed out to him, burst out laughing.
“Is that intentional, Jack?” he asked, throgh interpreter Antony Suzuki.
“Yeah,” Cust replied. “Ichiro wears his pants like this. That’s the style. Too bad I don’t have the belt to match.”
Ichiro, by the way, had a skinny, red leather belt on. Along with the shades he was wearing indoors, the cap, the sweatshirt and the usual fashion stuff that makes Ichiro, um, Ichiro.
Cust soon departed, demanding and receiving a fist-bump.
“He’s a funny guy,” Ichiro told reporters. “If you were to break it down, I’m the good sample and he’s the bad sample. Say, for instance, if you see a (fashion) magazine where it says ‘good’ and ‘bad’? I’d be on the good side and he’d be on the bad side.”
And if you did a magazine spread featuring photos of a good and a bad way for a baseball team should run a season, you’d have the 2009 Mariners under “good” and last year’s team under “horrible.”
Ichiro says he has “a bad memory” about such seasons. Which is good. Only a serious case of amnesia would allow him to keep shaking off the string of disastrous performances the club has put forth — with rare exceptions — since his first couple of years in the U.S.
He says he had a very good first impression of new manager Eric Wedge when the latter spoke to the team as a whole today.
“He’s got a strong heart,” Ichiro said. “He’s not very emotional, although he can get emotional, which is good. You can see he’s got very strong base and he’s not the kind of guy that will sway. He’s got his own strong feelings and he will come right after you, which is good. That’s what this team needs.”
So, is that really much different from the “new” approach ushered in by Don Wakamatsu only two years ago?
“He’s totally different from Wak,” Ichiro said. “He expresses his feelings in a different way. The things they have in common are they have a very strong feeling towards the game. And a good feel towards the game…basic fundamentals. That’s what is very similar. But besides that, you can say there is a lot that’s different from just talking about Wakamatsu.”
So, we’ll just have to see.
No matter what you think of Ichiro’s walk-rate, or some of the in-game decisions he makes, it’s tough to argue with his Gold Glove defense, his .300 batting average, 200-hits per year and the 100 runs scored he’ll always get with anything but an historically bad offense all around him. He’s probably headed to the Hall of Fame and — quite frankly — is the least of the team’s worries at the moment.
But he’s also 37. As good as his fitness level is, as high a level as he continues to play at, we’re all human and it isn’t going to last forever.
You’d like to think this team will someday find a core of players who can surround Ichiro with the same talent level he brings to the equation. Players who can elevate this club to championship form before he leaves, or retires.
Ichiro touched a bit on the team finding its “flow” and said the first challenge is to pinpoint what not to do badly again.
Running a video replay of the entire 2010 season might be a start. But on a more fundamental level, Ichiro said the job of Wedge and company will be to identify where the team is lacking and take steps to fix it.
“We have to find our mistakes, find what we have to work on,” he said. “But trying to find that, trying to go on the right direction, will get us going on that right flow and that’s what we need to do.
“But it’s not easy,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy.”
Indeed not. Ichiro is only under contract for two more seasons. It’s always been assumed, though never clearly stated, that he’ll spend his entire career in Seattle.
Then again, any more seasons like last year and who knows?
Griffey is no longer in the locker opposite Ichiro’s. As funny as Cust is, there’s no way he’ll get away with pinning Ichiro to the ground and tickling him.
That part of Ichiro’s career is done. And the clock is ticking — maybe slower than for other players, but ticking nonetheless — on what’s left of his career.
If the Mariners want to get him back to the post-season in their uniform, they’d best get cracking. As Ichiro said, it won’t be easy.