So when Suzuki stepped to home plate on Monday night at Safeco Field sporting an opponent’s uniform, the sight was nothing short of bizarre for all parties involved.
In a surprising move, Seattle dealt its 38-year-old right fielder to the New York Yankees just hours before the two teams opened a three-game series. In return, New York sent 25-year-old right-handed pitchers D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar to the last-place Mariners, who also sent cash back to the Yankees.
But after the move, which Suzuki deemed necessary, the Mariners faithful showed their appreciation for their Japanese star with a lengthy standing ovation. Suzuki tipped his cap, bowed twice and then, as he’d done so many times through the years for the Mariners, slapped a single into center field and stole second base.
“I’m going from a team with the most losses to a team with the most wins,” Suzuki said through a translator. “It’s hard to contain my excitement for that reason.”
The Mariners advanced to the American League championship series in Suzuki’s 2001 rookie — and MVP — season, but Seattle has not played a playoff game since. Meantime the Yankees are seven games up on Baltimore in the AL East and have advanced to the postseason in 16 of the last 17 years and present a prime opportunity for Suzuki to get back.
News of the move quickly spread through Japan, where Suzuki remains a national hero.
“He’s the top Japanese athlete in the world, both in terms of fame and skill,” Takuya Matsuo of Yokohama told the Associated Press. “The Yankees have a strong image, so this increases the chances he’ll win a World Series. He is getting older, so he probably wanted to see if he could experience being a champion. It’ll be fun to watch a fellow Japanese give it his best.”
A Seattle Post-Intelligencer poll shows Mariners fans are happy that Suzuki will get an opportunity to play for a winning team. Among the 334 responders as of 10 a.m. EST, 37 percent selected “This is great all around. Ichiro gets a chance at the title and the M’s move on.”
Suzuki, who is in the final year of a five-year, $18 million contract, is hitting a career-worst .261 with four home runs, 28 RBIs and 16 steals this season. But it’s his speed that the Yankees need most after they lost talented center fielder Brett Gardner (elbow) for the year.
“We feel that he brings the speed element,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s a tremendous hitter. That speed element is what we lost when Gardy had surgery. So this is a big day for us.”