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March 24, 2012 at 3:34 AM

Mariners take the stage in Tokyo

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The Mariners have packed up and left the Tokyo Dome after some batting practice today — which was overnight for all of you back home in Seattle — and are set to face the Hanshin Tigers tomorrow afternoon (Saturday night for you).

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Just got back to the hotel and saw Kyle Seager and Blake Beavan surrounded by autograph hounds, who have been patiently waiting in the street, in the lobby and anyplace security can’t find them. Lots of interest in the big leaguers.
Ichiro spoke to a few of us after the workout and said he views this series of games as an opportunity.
“It’s a special event, it’s important for us,” he said of the Mariners, through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “Because this is probably a once in a lifetime event for myself. We never get the opportunity for this. We had a chance in 2003, but unfortunately we didn’t make it. So, this is special. This is important.”
Ichiro was asked to expand on that a bit.
“It’s obvious,” he said. “I’ve been playing (MLB) for 12 years now, it’s been 12 seasons in the big leagues. And representing Major League baseball and playing in your country, it’s important.”
Ichiro was asked to identify the biggest virtue of Japanese baseball that he’d like to see adopted in the United States. He said he couldn’t go into detail on that, because the Japanese game needs to have some of its secrets kept intact in order to compete with the U.S. on a somewhat even level.
“There are certain things I can’t share with you,” he said. “Because we look at them, then we look at ourselves and we say ‘How am I supposed to compete against those guys?’
And then we start thinking about ‘OK, this is what I can do. This is what they can’t do.’ ”
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Just prior to taking the field, the Mariners staged their welcoming press conference at the Tokyo Dome Hotel next door. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, manager Eric Wedge, pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez, president Chuck Armstrong and CEO Howard Lincoln were up at the podium.


Iwakuma said he was excited to be back on Japanese so soon after crossing the ocean to play for the Mariners. He was asked about the significance of being back here, especially when it comes to helping raise awareness of the ongoing relief efforts for victims of last year’s tsunami in an area where he played professionally last season.
“Because I was in that area to play baseball, I really wanted to give something back to the local community there,” he said. “And I thought that, in order to achieve that goal, I should probably be on a major league roster and play there so I can encourage people throughout the disaster area.
“And I am very pleased to come back here and have an opportunity to play here as well.’
Mariners CEO Lincoln echoed those thoughts, saying he hopes the opening series brings “some small measure of help to all of the victims of the great earthquake and tsunami of last year. Let’s hope that all of the people who are still suffering get some small measure of joy from these games.”
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Hernandez said “it’s an honor to be here” and told the assembled media he’s “just looking forward to putting on a good show when I pitch on Opening Day.”
Hernandez said he was genuinely impressed by the sheer number of reporters covering the team’s every move last night at both the airport and the team hotel. It was much the same during batting practice, with a gauntlet of print media and photographers lining the area around the first base dugout, with more watching from the stands.
As for the batting practice itself, Jason Vargas and Beavan both through simulated games in which they alternated innings between them.
I had a chance to chat with GM Zduriencik down on the field as he watched the goings-on. Zduriencik said the exhibition games, starting with the first one tomorrow (later tonight in Seattle) will still be a big part of the evaluation process when it comes to some players.
“We still haven’t set our roster yet,” he said. “So, yeah, there are things you’re always going to be looking for and we hope it will help us answer some questions.”
One of those will concern shortstop Brendan Ryan, who has had his struggles staying on the field again this spring. Zduriencik said Japanese infielder Munenori Kawasaki has certainly shown he can handle the position if Ryan isn’t ready to go.
Wedge echoed those comments when asked about Kawasaki earlier on at the press conference.
“Kawasaki had a great camp,” Wedge said. “He made a great ipression, I think, on all of us with his energy and his ability. Obviously, he had to come into spring training this year and make the ballclub. He’s still with us here, he’s part of our club right now and I think it’s exciting for him…that he has an opportunity to come back here to Japan.”

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Hisashi Iwakuma

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