Mariners joke Ichiro should be in Home Run Derby
NEW YORK (AP) — Now that he's no longer an active player, maybe Ichiro Suzuki wants to start swinging for the fences.
How about at next month's Home Run Derby during All-Star festivities in Washington?
What began as light-hearted banter among Seattle Mariners coaches grew into something that caused a stir in the clubhouse before Wednesday night's game against the New York Yankees.
"He's got power and he's been launching balls into the seats," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "A couple of coaches said the other day, 'You know, no one wants to do this Home Run Derby. Why don't we just send Ichiro? He'd be awesome.'"
The idea gained momentum when Servais mentioned it on a radio show Wednesday, and suddenly a new Twitter hashtag was born — #IchiForDC.
Not officially retired but unlikely to appear in another major league game, the Japanese-born Suzuki shifted to a new role with Seattle as special assistant to the chairman in early May after batting .205 in 15 games this season. The 44-year-old travels with the team and is in uniform for games, helping out with batting practice and other drills while keeping a locker in the clubhouse.
Even though he's still in game shape, Suzuki didn't seem to be entertaining the idea of throwing his hat in the ring for the annual power contest.
"I'm not a player (anymore) and just the long, great history that MLB has, I don't think it would be good for it," Suzuki said through a translator. "But I think it's fun and I'm happy that it's come up."
Servais was happy the concept was being discussed, even if it was nothing more than a joke.
"This is really good because he's been giving me a hard time so I'm really glad to throw this back in his lap," he said with a grin.
Suzuki, the 2001 AL MVP and Rookie of the Year, found humor in the situation — but promised revenge on Servais.
"It's the funniest thing he's said this first half of the year," Suzuki said. "I'm definitely going to get him back. I'm going to continue to get him."
Suzuki has 3,089 big league hits, but only 117 of those were home runs. Despite reaching double-digit homers in just three of his 18 major league seasons, Suzuki often displayed surprising power in batting practice and it was widely believed he could have clubbed a lot more over the fence if he tried.
But the 10-time All-Star maintained his unorthodox, slashing swing throughout his career, leading the league in hits seven times.
"Right now I'm eating two hamburgers at lunch, and now that this Home Run Derby thing came up I'll have to up it to three cheeseburgers for lunch, get some more power," he quipped.
If Suzuki did try his hand against some of the game's top sluggers in the nation's capital, however, he knows who he'd want pitching to him.
"Mark Buehrle," he said, after a long, contemplative pause.
Suzuki was 27 for 66 (.409) against the left-hander, who won 214 games over 16 seasons.