Ichiro wins Seattle's heart again with moving speech ahead of walk-off win

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The Seattle Mariners are spending their penultimate weekend at home this season honoring future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki’s career with “Ichiro Weekend,” which kicked off Friday night in Seattle.

The 45-year-old retired from playing after the Mariners’ season-opening series against the Oakland Athletics in his native Japan. Ichiro has been serving as a special adviser to the team since early in the 2018 season, but came back to take the field for a final time in Tokyo.

After playing the first of three games against the White Sox on Friday, the Mariners hosted Ichiro Fireworks Night. Then Saturday night, in addition to giving out Ichiro bobbleheads, the team staged a pregame ceremony in his honor — before the team walked off on an Omar Narvaez homer to win 2-1.

Ichiro, who throughout his career did most of his public speaking in Japanese through a translator, addressed the crowd for five minutes in perfect English. Current team members and fellow franchise legends Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez stood behind him.

“When I came to Seattle in 2001, no position player had come from Japan before. The one you got was 27, small, skinny and unknown,” he said. “You had every reason not to accept me, however you welcomed me with open arms and never stopped even when I left and came back.”

Make sure you’ve got a tissue handy for this one.

All this from a man who has been (incorrectly) accused of refusing to learn English.

Ichiro continues to take the field, because of course he does

Even in “retirement,” Ichiro is finding himself on the field plenty as an instructor. According to The New York Times, he’s taken to the craft of throwing batting practice as meticulously as anything he famously did during his playing career.

He’s also been spotted shagging balls in the outfield from time to time, including on Friday.

When he wasn’t allowed in the dugout during games as an adviser last season, Ichiro passed time by throwing in the batting cages. He started throwing every day, up to 200 pitches, just imagining that some day he’d be called upon to pitch in BP, which he eventually got to do.

Now, he throws consistent, smooth strikes – and developed an arsenal of pitches – so some batters love to take BP off of him at home games.

“He’s got a two-seamer, cutter, four-seam fastball up, a curveball, and a slider — and he can throw any of them for strikes,” utility player Austin Nola said. “Here’s a guy who was the best situational hitter of anybody I know, and he can throw all these pitches for strikes.”

When the team leaves town, Ichiro drives an hour to throw to the team’s AAA-affiliate players in Tacoma, according to the Times.

There’s even a rumor he had to “take a little off” his throws because they were coming in too hot. We’d expect nothing less.

Former Seattle Mariners player Ichiro Suzuki pauses while giving a speech during a ceremony in which he was given Mariners' Franchise Achievement Award, before a baseball game between the Chicago White Sox and the Mariners, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
Former Seattle Mariners player Ichiro Suzuki gave an emotional speech as part of the team's weekend festivities staged in his honor. (AP Photo)

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