Intrigue of the opening day: Ichiro lets them guess on their future



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It is the Ichiro effect.

Richard Snitzer had never been to Japan. What eventually drove the Japanese-American to come here from his home in Hayward, California, was Ichiro Suzuki; no family ties, no sheer desire to travel, but a chance to see a player that he called "simply the best".

And get this. He's not even a fan of the Mariners, which is announced by wearing his A jersey around the Tokyo Dome.

He will be present Wednesday when Major League Baseball open the 2019 season with Seattle against Oakland to begin a two-game series. Ichiro, 45, should play in both cases. What happens next? Ichiro does not say.

One thing is sure. It will be a big theater.

"I'll get my phone ready, shoot, and get up to applaud when it hits," Snitzer said. "I just hope that he will not have the winning shot against the A. If he hits a homerun that does not affect the match, I'll be delighted."

A launcher Liam Hendriks probably spoke for both teams.

"We are just happy to be here," he said. "I can not wait for the opening series when they announce Ichiro and hear this crowd."

There is a good chance that most baseball fans from other places will fall asleep when A's right-hander, Mike Fiers, launches the first pitch of the year – around 5:30 am advanced eastern.

It does not matter, everyone will have enough time to catch up before the 28 other teams open on March 28 at Yankee Stadium, Dodger Stadium and intermediate points. Many things to see also in a season that will last until the end of October: Bryce Harper now beats in Philadelphia, the Boston Red Sox are trying to reissue their title of World Series champions and discuss further before changing the way the game is played.

At the same time, Ichiro slipped on Friday in Tokyo's Haneda Airport under the guise of a well-lowered gray and black cap. He has been very visible since then; at a rare press conference, showing up in practice with assists in the right field and signing autographs to fans lining the draw lines before the demonstration games against the Tokyo Giants.

The Ichiro models are almost the only ones to be on sale in the Tokyo Dome. And they are not cheap: between $ 35 and $ 45 for a t-shirt, $ 62 for a sweatshirt and a baseball with # 51 for $ 30.

"Yes, we sell well because Ichiro is a man of effort," said Yu Takamiya, a salesman who answers questions via his translation app.

Ichiro told reporters Saturday that – on the basis of spring training – he was lucky to be here. He hit .080 in Arizona and he has not played in a regular season game for a year. He was 0 for 6 in two exhibition games against the Tokyo Giants. They do not count officially. But if they did, he hit 0.065.

"It's a great gift for me," he said one day after his arrival. "I will cherish every moment on the pitch, and a week after that event I will come back to those days."

A director, Bob Melvin, knows Ichiro well because he directed the Mariners 15 years ago.

"Some guys create that kind of buzz," Melvin said. "He's used to it, but the days will be long, and once in the field, all you have to do is work and isolate."

Melvin recalled the relentless coaching of Ichiro. It has not changed. Ichiro was alone in crossing the field in several practices in Tokyo.

"In terms of playing and getting ready, there was no one better," Melvin said.

Pilot Stephen A Piscotty, on his first visit to Japan, called Ichiro "master".

"He still controls his fate here," said Piscotty. "He's very special and it's an honor to be on the field with him, obviously you look around and you see how important baseball is in Japan, and Ichiro is one of them." "

Other key elements of the upcoming season:

ROSTER RESHUFFLING

Bryce Harper was the biggest name to change places since last season, leaving the Nationals and signing a record deal of $ 330 million over 13 years with Philadelphia. The Phillies were particularly busy, added J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson. Manny Machado (Padres), Paul Goldschmidt (Cardinals), Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz (Mets), Nelson Cruz (Twins), Patrick Corbin (Nationals) and Josh Donaldson (Braves) were also on the road.

But Craig Kimbrel, former winner of Cy Young, and Dallas Keuchel, former winner of Cy Young, has no job on the verge of starting a new season.

HIYA, SKIP!

New Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo quickly showed that he was ready to try a new strategy – he played a four man defense off against Harper at the spring training. There are six new skippers in the majors this year: Montoyo, David Bell (Reds), Rocco Baldelli (Twins), Chris Woodward (Rangers) and Brandon Hyde (Orioles) are doing it for the first time among the greats, Brad Ausmus ( Angels) has experience.

NEW RULES

Despite many discussions, nothing major for this season. No bans on shifts, no throwing clock and no obligation for pitchers to face at least three batters before next year. No robot arbiter for the moment. A change could affect pennant races this summer – no dealings after July 31, so more bids at the end of August for an extra player in the playoffs.

REPEAT AFTER ME

It's been a long time since a team won two consecutive titles – the Yankees were the last to do so, winning their third consecutive title in 2000. Now the AL MVP, Mookie Betts and the Red Sox will try to reduce the longest gap in baseball without a rehearsal champion. Meanwhile, Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers will try not to become the first team to lose the World Series three times in a row since the Christ star, Christy Mathewson, the famous coach John McGraw and the New York Giants are fallen in 1911-13.

NEXT OPENING

Once the Mariners and A have left Japan, they will return to the United States to complete their spring training matches. Then everyone is in action for the regular season on March 28th. Among the matches: the Red Sox in Seattle, Baltimore at Yankee Stadium and Arizona at Dodger Stadium. Plus, the Cubs will play Texas – this will be the Rangers' last season at the park inaugurated in 1994 before settling into a new home nearby next year.

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More MLB AP: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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