As a silver-haired Ichiro Suzuki fielded questions Wednesday from behind a podium at the Peoria Sports Complex, at long last reunited with the organization that brought him over from Japan nearly two decades ago and watched him blossom into a Hall of Famer, the repatriated Seattle Mariners legend wanted to clear one thing up.
Last year, Ichiro noted, he was quoted as saying he hopes to play until he's 50. But that's not quite what he meant.
"I think everybody has heard I want to play 'til I'm 50," Ichiro told reporters, including MLB.com's Greg Johns. "But I always say I want to play at least until I'm 50. Make sure everybody understands that."
For now, following a harrowing offseason in which he generated virtually no interest among the league's 29 other teams, Ichiro will continue his quest with the Mariners, who signed the 44-year-old to a one-year deal Wednesday worth a reported $750,000. And Ichiro, who won the American League MVP award with Seattle as a rookie in 2001 and earned 10 straight All-Star nominations during his halcyon days with the club, isn't back merely to boost jersey sales, according to manager Scott Servais.
"He's going to play," Servais said. "It's not like what he's done the last couple years. That's why we acquired him, to bring him in. I don't think it's going to be seven days a week, but we'll get him out there. I believe he can help us. Our people making the decisions on the roster believe he can help us. So we'll give it a shot."
Last season, Ichiro appeared in 136 games with the Miami Marlins, hitting .255/.318/.332 across 215 plate appearances - more than half of them coming as a pinch hitter. Over the past five seasons, split between the Marlins and New York Yankees, he hasn't been able to replicate the success he enjoyed in Seattle, accruing just 2.5 WAR while hitting .263 in 725 games. Still, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto is confident the veteran will be an asset in 2018.
"The addition of Ichiro gives our team another versatile and athletic outfielder," Dipoto said. "His incredible work ethic, preparation and focus will enhance our environment in many ways. He's truly one of the great players in the history of the game and his unquestionable presence is a valuable addition, both on the field and in the clubhouse. We're very glad to bring him back home."