Miami Marlins

Kisses aside, Ichiro Suzuki still enjoys Opening Day

Miami Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, left, greets pitcher Jose Fernandez, right, and other teammates during a ceremony before Tuesday’s first game of the season against the Detroit Tigers.
Miami Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, left, greets pitcher Jose Fernandez, right, and other teammates during a ceremony before Tuesday’s first game of the season against the Detroit Tigers. AP

The oldest position player on the Marlins — and in all Majors, for that matter — wasn’t hard to identify before Miami opened its season Tuesday against the Detroit Tigers.

Ichiro Suzuki is the only Marlin with a full head of gray hair.

Suzuki, 42, sat at his locker, preparing for his 16th season in the big leagues and another Opening Day.

“Obviously, it’s a little different from the first year,” said Suzuki, who began his Major League career with Seattle in 2001. “But it’s still a special day, and that won’t change.”

Suzuki is closing in on a couple of major milestones. He is 65 hits from 3,000 and two stolen bases from 500. He fouled out as a pinch-hitter against Justin Verlander in the sixth inning.

Only five players in Major League history have totaled as many as 3,000 hits and 500 stolen bases: Ty Cobb, Paul Molitor, Eddie Collins, Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock. They’re all in the Hall of Fame.

And Suzuki needs only one more hit to break his tie with Barry Bonds — the Marlins’ new hitting coach — on the all-time hit list.

As a reserve outfielder, reaching 3,000 hits this season for Suzuki could be a challenge, especially if the Marlins’ three starting outfielders — Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna — remain healthy and productive, limiting the living legend to part-time duty.

But Suzuki still loves to play, and said he will never forget his first Opening Day after coming to the United States . from Japan. It was the start of the 2001 season and Suzuki went 2 for 5 in a Seattle win.

Afterward, he said Mariners manager Lou Piniella did something completely unexpected.

“After the game, Lou gave me a kiss on the cheek, and it was gross,” Suzuki said with a laugh. “And I’ll never forget that the rest of my life. I thought maybe it was the American culture. I was just shocked by it.

“I thought maybe every time we won, and every time I did well, he was going to give me a kiss.”

The kisses ended there.

But, for Suzuki, the hits kept coming.

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