PEORIA, Ariz. Ichiro Suzuki returned to the Seattle Mariners a changed man.
No longer is he keeping his emotions and expressions hidden, as if they were the secrets to his hitting skills and perennial All-Star and Gold Glove selections.
After leading Japan to the championship of the inaugural World Baseball Classic three days earlier, Suzuki rejoined his American teammates Thursday. But his mind clearly still was back with Japan.
"Winning the WBC was the greatest moment in my baseball life," Suzuki said, beginning his sixth season with the Mariners after a 29-day delay. "I really cannot describe the feeling. This was just a brief moment in our careers, but we came together in an unbelievable way."
The usually reclusive Suzuki, one of only two major leaguers on Japan's roster, was the leader of that cohesion. He joked with teammates on the field. He yelled encouragement and willingly accepted the spotlight. At times in interviews, his voice was hoarse from all the chatter.
"I think I should have been shouting more in the past," he said early in the tournament. "I think this kind of husky tone is pretty cool."
Immediately after Japan beat Cuba on Monday night to win the championship - as the Baseball Hall of Fame collected his batting helmet for display in Cooperstown, N.Y. - Suzuki was openly emotional. The 32-year old had his cap on backward, giddily shouting at teammates to respect their "old man." He was beaming with joy and pride.
His conspicuous enthusiasm and leadership in the WBC was a revelation in Seattle. The Mariners, who have slogged through successive 90-loss seasons, hope it is a revelation for them, too.
"I won't maintain that emotional level," Suzuki said. "I guess I'm lucky we have another week left in spring training, and that will give me an opportunity to recover."
Mariners manager Mike Hargrove has said he "hoped" Suzuki might similarly lead his team this season.