Ichiro Suzuki has arrived in Tokyo, a sure sign the Major League Baseball season is only days away from starting.
Wearing a gray and black hat pulled down to cover most of his head, the 45-year-old Seattle Mariners star slipped quickly through the arrival gate on Friday at Haneda Airport with hundreds and reporters and fans getting only a quick glimpse.
The Seattle Mariners and the Oakland Athletics arrived within hours of each other on Friday on charter flights from the United States. They play on Wednesday and Thursday at the Tokyo Dome in the first two games of the 2019 season.
Ichiro is likely to play both games. After that it’s unclear if he will make the Mariners team, retire, or do something else.
Several of the players from both teams waved as they passed through the airport. A few stopped to greet fans who were packed several deep.
Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez was the most dramatic, pausing in front of cameras and saying: “I’m here, I’m here.”
Ichiro is a baseball idol in Japan and, though his star has faded in the last few years, he is still popular and appears frequently on television commercials.
Many Japanese think he should retire in Tokyo in a dramatic goodbye after the two games and wait to be the first Japanese player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Others say Ichiro should do it his way, which is the way he has conducted his entire MLB career since he broke in with the Mariners in 2001 after playing in Japan for the Orix BlueWave.