Ichiro Suzuki's trade from the Seattle Mariners to the New York Yankees on Monday came as a surprise to many.
Opinions varied on how best to use him in the lineup — the M's decided that, ultimately, he was good trade bait — but he was still an undeniable fan favorite.
Tri-City Dust Devils hitting coach Anthony Sanders had a front-row seat for Ichiro's very first season in the major leagues back in 2001. Sanders was a 27-year-old outfielder still looking for a team to give him an honest chance at a starting role, and he figured Seattle might be the place for him.
At first, Sanders was in awe of the players around him.
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"There were a lot of leaders. I've got to give credit to Pat Gillick for bringing all that talent to Seattle. In my first year there we had Bret Boone, John Olerud, Ichiro, Edgar Martinez," Sanders said. "These guys were pro hitters who young guys would watch videos of and try to be like. I had a chance to be in groups with those guys. I could see from the left side or the right side."
Sanders played about half the season with the Mariners before heading to Japan to finish out the year. But for a while — at least in spring training — it looked like he might be the one to emerge as the starter in right field.
"We were in Peoria for spring training, and I was out there with all the outfielders trying to figure out where am I going to get a chance to play," he said. "There's all these guys making $5 million or more (Mike Cameron, Jay Buhner, Al Martin), then you have Ichiro in his first year.
"You'd watch him in batting practice, rolling over balls, blooping balls here and there. I thought, 'Here it is, I've got a chance to play right field.' "
Once the season began, that's when Ichiro started showing the ability that has made him a Seattle icon for the last 11 seasons.
"He gets a start, three hits. Then four hits. Then five hits. Infield hits," Sanders said. "I thought, 'What's going on here?'.
"And he continues to do it," Sanders said. "I never moved."