The second-oldest player in the Majors — and by far the oldest on the Marlins — is stretching his legs on the carpet in front of his locker, the only cubicle of the 44 inside the clubhouse that contains any clothing or equipment.
All the others were cleaned out Oct. 1, the day the season ended.
Outfielder Giancarlo Stanton left for Mexico the very next day. Pitcher Dan Straily returned home to Oregon. First baseman Justin Bour headed off to Virginia. Outfielder Christian Yelich went back to California.
They all bolted, scattering hither and yon. To decompress from the grind of a 162-game season. To unwind with their families. To spend some time away from the ballpark and enjoy the offseason until spring training starts in February.
All except one: Ichiro Suzuki.
For Suzuki, who turns 44 on Sunday, baseball doesn’t end when the calendar declares it so. It never ends. A sure-bet Hall of Famer with seemingly nothing left to prove, Ichiro continues to make the daily commute to Marlins Park, crafting his swing in the indoor batting cages, throwing and catching out on the field and running and lifting weights to remain fit.
He is the only one.
It’s not some new regimen concocted to squeeze another year or two of baseball out of his long and brilliant career. He has been doing it almost every single offseason for as long as he has been playing.
“Once, I tried to rest,” Suzuki said through his interpreter and workout partner Allen Turner. “I wanted to see if that would help, and I didn’t work out for a month. And my body just didn’t feel like my own body. My body was, like, sick.”
That was in 2005.
Said Bour of Suzuki’s inner drive and compulsion to succeed: “That’s not surprising. That’s who he is.”
Suzuki has said he wants to play until he’s “at least 50.” At the moment, though, he finds himself at a crossroads, a potential end point. The Marlins hold a $2 million club option on Suzuki for next season and have until four days after the World Series to decide whether to hang on to him or let him become a free agent.
With new ownership in Miami, it’s anyone’s guess what that decision will be. It’s out of his hands.
“If a team wants you, you can still play,” he said. “If a team doesn’t want you, then you’re not going to have a place to play, even though you might think you can play.”
Suzuki feels he still has something to offer, still wants to play even though he has accomplished about all there is to accomplish. More than 3,000 career hits in the Majors. More than 500 stolen bases. A career .312 average.
He has already earned more than $166 million during his 17-year stint in the Majors, so it’s not about the money.
“My goals have nothing to do with the numbers,” he said. “I want to challenge myself to the highest level I can perform at. So it’s a battle between me and myself.”
Suzuki played in 136 games last season. Only five Marlins appeared in more.
But the number is deceptive. He started just 22 times, in large part because the Marlins’ three outfielders — Stanton, Yelich and Marcell Ozuna — managed to remain healthy and productive from start to finish.
Suzuki was used as a pinch-hitter 109 times, obliterating the Major League record. He finished with 27 pinch-hits, one shy of the all-time mark.
But he keeps going, rarely pausing for a break.
“I don’t see why you would want to rest,” he said.
On the night the season ended — a Sunday — Suzuki said he returned to his Miami Beach residence and began working out on the custom-made equipment he has set up in his home.
He returned to the ballpark on Wednesday and has continued showing up there six days a week. It would be seven if not for the fact the ballpark is closed on Sundays, with no one to let him in.
“There’s never a day where I just sit at the house and just relax and do nothing,” he said. “There’s not a day like that. It’s not like I have to do this. For me, I want to do it. It’s fun. Maybe for the other players, it’s not like that. I’m not sure. But for me, it’s fun and I want to come out and that’s why I do it.”
He will head back to Japan at the end of the month and spend the rest of the offseason there.
“But the schedule is the same in Japan,” he said of his daily workout routine.
He is determined to keep playing.
“I kind of want to be able to lead the way and show that age is not a factor, and that you can continue to do what you want to do,” Suzuki said. “So if there’s a player in the future that’s going to want to play up to this point, or to a certain age, then they’ll have somebody who has done it before.”
Sunday is his birthday.
“I’m probably not going to celebrate,” he said.