The Zen of Ichiro

You don't need daylight savings, nor a groundhog, nor the scent of fresh lawn clippings to tell when spring has so-called sprung. All you need is a couple of crazy quotes from Ichiro, the Mariners' star center fielder. Or, as I like to say, the modern-day Yogi Berra.

Despite racking up over 200 hits in every season he's been in the majors and in spite of just being a few short years removed from breaking the single-season hits record, a mark that stood for over 60 years, Ichiro is in an 0 for 21 slump in spring training. But is this man known for being as serious as an assassin concerned?


Facing the Rockies on Tuesday, Ichiro gave Mariners fans little to cheer about, grounding to the pitcher to lead off the game, lofting a couple of fly balls to left in the
third and sixth innings, and coming closest to breaking his Cactus rut with a hard grounder to third to lead off the ninth, snared by Rockies prospect Ian Stewart.

"Part of me said, 'Go through, so it can be a hit,' " Ichiro said through an interpreter. "But the other part of me said, 'Make this an out so the streak can continue.' "

Oddly, Ichiro is convincing those around him that it is an altogether enjoyable experience for him.

"To tell you the truth, some of this is kind of fun," Ichiro said. "To be in a situation this early in Spring Training and have this kind of a bit of intense environment is something that I couldn't experience before. Basically, it's a situation where I need to battle within myself, mentally. "That's something that I haven't experienced at this time of year, and I get to experience that right now, and that is great for me. Once I get a hit it might actually make me sad that this experience isn't going to be here any more. But at the same time, I understand I need results."

Manager John McLaren may not be taking quite as much pleasure in the artificially intense atmosphere as Ichiro is, but he is every bit as carefree when it comes to the fortunes of his leadoff hitter.

"I told the Japanese press he's going to [Triple-A] Tacoma in a couple of weeks, and they looked at me like I was nuts," McLaren joked.

"His stroke's coming, believe me. He's going with the pitch, he's not in a pull mode or anything. He's hitting the ball hard. He's just that much off," McLaren said, holding his fingers centimeters apart. "He's fine. Put him down for the batting title. Put my name with it, please."

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