07/15/09 2:33 AM ET
All-Star affair special for Seattle trio
Coach Wakamatsu, Ichiro, Felix relish unique experiences
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
For Ichiro Suzuki, an All-Star veteran, it was about enjoying the moment and soaking in a little personal history. And for the rookies, pitcher Felix Hernandez and Mariners manager and American League All-Star coach Don Wakamatsu, it was about taking a new experience and using it as something to build on.
At the end of the night, when the AL had won the Midsummer Classic, 4-3, it was about Seattle trying to win the AL West and secure the home-field advantage in the World Series that the Junior Circuit earned with the victory.
Ichiro literally got things started in the game, which was played at Busch Stadium, when he led off for the visiting AL and swung at the first pitch from National League starter Tim Lincecum, smoking a line drive that looked like it might have a chance to be a home run before it died and went foul by about 30 feet.
"Yesterday, [AL] manager [Joe] Maddon bought me a bottle of wine, saying, 'You have to hit a home run on the first pitch tomorrow,'" Ichiro said through interpreter Ken Barron. "So I had to."
A few pitches later he lined a single into right field, the only hit in his 1-for-3 night.
After the game, Ichiro said he was thankful that the Junior Circuit prevailed despite the fact that he wasn't able to do what has become a hilarious pregame motivational talk in which he demonstratively delivers some choice English slang words to his teammates.
"For the pregame, they always had me say a few words, but this time I didn't say anything and we still won, so I put a period on history," Ichiro said. "I'm kind of glad to get that over with."
Aside from his exploits in the clubhouse and on the field of play, Ichiro's weekend had a higher meaning.
His St. Louis experience was highlighted by a trip to the grave site of George Sisler, the St. Louis Browns great whose single-season hits record of 257, set in 1920, was eclipsed by Ichiro in 2004. Sisler, who was nicknamed "Gorgeous George," had a lifetime batting average of .340 and batted .407 in 1920. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1939, died on March 26, 1973, and was buried at Des Peres Presbyterian Church Cemetery.
Ichiro, who was visited by members of Sisler's family in Seattle the night he recorded the record-tying and record-breaking hits, went there Monday with his wife, Yumiko, and friends to spend some time, take photos and lay flowers at his grave.
"I wanted to do that for a grand upperclassman of the baseball world," Ichiro said. "I think it's only natural for someone to want to do that, to express my feelings in that way."
Wakamatsu said the pictures Ichiro showed him from the grave site "gave me some chills."
"I think it's important that people understand that there's a different side to him, and to be able to go back and respect a man whose record he broke was awfully special," Wakamatsu said.
Another man Ichiro got to respect was President Barack Obama, who visited the AL clubhouse before throwing out the first pitch and stopped to greet Ichiro, of whom the President is a fan, and sign a ball for him.
"My idea, when I saw him, was to say, 'What's up?' to him," Ichiro said. "But I got nervous. You know, he has that kind of aura about him. So I got nervous and I didn't say that to him. I was a little disappointed about that.
"But I realized after seeing him today that presidents wear jeans, too. So my hope is that our skipper, Wakamatsu, was watching that and we can wear jeans on our flights, as well."
That might not happen any time soon, but a recurring theme for the Mariners has been the domination of Hernandez, and it continued in the All-Star Game.
The 23-year-old first-time All-Star breezed through his one inning of work, a 1-2-3 sixth that included having to face hometown hero and Major League home run leader Albert Pujols, whom Hernandez retired on a groundout.
"It was very exciting," Hernandez said. "There are no words to describe it. It was a good inning, you know? I was throwing strikes."
Ichiro was impressed, too.
"To be able to have that kind of performance as an All-Star definitely has to give him confidence," Ichiro said. "So for our team, that means a lot for him to through experiences like this and gain confidence."
Before the game, Ichiro joked around when asked if he had any advice for his All-Star newbie teammate, saying he told Hernandez, "Make sure to attend all the events and make sure to clean the clubhouse."
All kidding aside, Hernandez got a lot done.
He hung out with the only other Venezuelan on the AL roster, Indians catcher Victor Martinez, and he caught up with a hero of his, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. The two talked about a lot of things, but "not baseball," according to Hernandez.
Then he was approached by Tampa Bay Rays slugger Carlos Pena, who asked for better treatment the next time he faces Hernandez.
"Pena told me yesterday, 'When I faced you and you threw me a changeup, I looked at the radar gun and it said 97 mph," Hernandez said. "It was a two-seamer. But because it dropped a lot, he thought it was a changeup."
Meanwhile, Wakamatsu soaked in his All-Star experience as a coach for manager Maddon, a longtime friend and mentor of Wakamatsu's who has known the Mariners skipper since both were cutting their teeth in the Angels organization.
"The best part of this experience for me was to be able to sit and talk baseball with a lot of people I've respected in the game for a long time," Wakamatsu said. "The pitchers or position players from other teams, to be able to sit with them and talk about their philosophy, it helps you as a coach or manager."
Wakamatsu said having Ichiro and Hernandez along for the ride this week has been a boon for Seattle baseball.
"It means a lot to the city and the organization to have two representatives in this game," Wakamatsu said. He then looked over at the door leading to the office for the manager of the AL All-Star team, which, of course, is the manager of the previous year's World Series participant.
"I think the next time I'd like to be in that spot," Wakamatsu said.
"That's what we're all working for."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.