Ichiro heads into final year of deal with Mariners


PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) -- No one really knows when Ichiro Suzuki will retire. The 38-year-old outfielder is heading into the final year of his contract with Seattle and isn't discussing a new deal.

There he was on Saturday, though, beginning his 12th spring training with the Mariners as the team held its first full-squad workout of 2012.

Naturally, there was a bit more buzz around camp than usual. More fans showed up to watch and get autographs. More media from Japan arrived, following Suzuki's every move. And when asked about his future, Suzuki said it was difficult to say how long he plans to keep playing.

"When I first came in 2001, I never thought that I would be here in 2012," he said through translator Antony Suzuki. "You can wish you'd be there, but you never know. So it's the little things that count and it's the little things that you build off, to where you've come this far."

Suzuki, a 10-time All-Star and the franchise leader in hits -- including 10 straight seasons of 200 or more from 2001-10 -- provided a show on Day 1. He hit seven home runs during batting practice.

The Mariners can likely count on offensive production from Suzuki despite a down year in 2011, when he had 184 hits but batted below .300 (.272) for the first time since joining the Mariners in 2001.

"I go through the same process in the offseason. I feel fresh, ready to go for the challenge," Suzuki said. "If those numbers were in '01, a lot of people would have said, 'Hey, this guy can play.' Expectations are very high."

The Mariners are coming off a 67-95 season that produced a last-place finish in the AL West. Suzuki didn't sound totally opposed to being dropped from his customary leadoff spot in the batting order, a move manager Eric Wedge eventually plans to discuss with him.

Suzuki said with two Japanese teammates, infielder Munenori Kawasaki and pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, he has a lot of pride in the rise of his country's baseball talent. Suzuki said he heard he was Kawasaki's baseball hero growing up, that Kawasaki would imitate him and wanted to play for the Mariners because of Suzuki.

"You look at other countries, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, they have a lot of stars that perform at this level," Suzuki said, "and when you compare Japan to those countries, we're not there yet. That's what I look forward to saying in the future."

The Mariners play in Japan in March, two regular-season games against the Oakland Athletics at the end of the month. Suzuki looks forward to going back to his native land for those games.

"We've never had that opportunity before, so it's new for me and it's new for the team," he said. "This is something that we will probably have once in a lifetime, so I look forward to that and would like to take advantage of that."

Notes: The Mariners sent OF Mike Wilson outright to Triple-A Tacoma, then invited him to big league spring training as a non-roster invite. The 28-year-old Wilson played eight games for the Mariners last season after getting called up in May. The club's spring training roster is at 67 players.