07/14/08 4:58 PM ET
Ichiro enjoys trips to Yankee Stadium
Mariners outfielder a favorite target of boo-birds there
By Corey Brock / MLB.com
Oddly enough, what Ichiro looks forward to most about playing in the Bronx is getting the chance to play in front of the Yankees faithful, who have been anything but amiable with their taunts from the grandstand.
"Since I've played over here, playing in front of the Yankee fans has been really fun for me," Ichiro said. "The historical part is very important. But for me, getting to play in front of the Yankee fans is more important.
"It's kind of a tingling feeling. I am used to them booing me. ... It's kind of fun to get booed. They might still boo me, but if they don't that will be a different feeling."
Ichiro, who will hit leadoff for the American League and start in right field on Tuesday, might end up with more cheers than jeers, which wouldn't be entirely bad, not with the way this season has gone for the Mariners, who are tied for the second-worst winning percentage (.389) in baseball at the break.
Since the season started, the Mariners have lost their manager, John McLaren -- who was about as close to Ichiro as anyone in the organization has been -- and their general manager, Bill Bavasi, who was dismissed in June.
"Whether you are a GM, manager or player, things happen when you are not winning," Ichiro said Monday at a press conference at the Grand Hyatt in New York. "It's been a really tough season for me as an individual and as a team."
Ichiro enters the All-Star Game hitting .304. He's only hit lower than .312 once during his career (.303 in 2005). He hit a pedestrian .259 in April, though he's picked up his average lately with a .380 push in the first 13 games of July.
With the Mariners looking to rebuild in the second half with left-hander Erik Bedard a possibility to be moved, there's been talk that Ichiro, a career .331 hitter who will be appearing in his eighth All-Star Game, could be moved as well.
"Is there a chance? ... Of course, there's always a chance, especially when our team is playing like this," Ichiro said. "As a player, I could be thankful that other teams want me. But if the Mariners ever think they don't need me on their team, I have to start thinking about my situation. But I want to play for this team."
As proof, Ichiro referenced the five-year contract extension he signed worth $90 million three days after the All-Star Game last season. But those were heady days for Seattle, as the team was playing well, McLaren was the manager and a postseason berth was not such the pipe dream it is today.
The Mariners' decision to dismiss McLaren on June 19 didn't sit well with Ichiro, who got to know McLaren when he was part of then-manager Lou Piniella's staff during Ichiro's first season in the Major Leagues.
"Ever since then, he's been really friendly to me. To be that friendly to a guy from Japan with a question mark, that hasn't happened much," Ichiro said. "To play under him ... you can say it was a dream. It didn't last very long."
Ichiro was asked Monday about a fellow Japanese countryman, Chicago Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, who made the National League All-Star team during his first Major League season.
"I haven't had enough time in my heart, enough ease in me to watch other players during the season," Ichiro said. "To be honest, I don't know how he's been doing at all."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.