Brandon Mann grew up idolizing Ichiro Suzuki. He was born in Tacoma and he was watching Ichiro’s MVP season in 2001 when he was a junior at Mount Rainier High School.
Mann never imagined he’d be facing Ichiro in a game.
And he certainly never saw this coming.
One of his pitches tailed inside and careened off Ichiro’s batting helmet, sending the 44 –year-old future Hall of Famer to the dirt near home plate during a minor league scrimmage game. Ichiro was there to get extra at-bats while he recovers from a calf injury.
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Mann took off his cap was crouched in front of the mound while medical staff attended to Ichiro.
“I was just like, ‘Oh, crap,’” Mann said. “It’s Ichiro, you know. He’s Ichiro.”
Ichiro turned out to be fine. He was escorted off of the field, but Mariners first baseman Ryon Healy, who was on deck, said Ichiro was “goofing around on the ground, trying to make people laugh.”
Mann got to meet up with Ichiro a while after and apologized. But what a whirlwind day for him.
“He was just like, ‘I’m totally, totally fine,’” Mann said. “And he was just like, through his interpreter, ‘I don’t want you to let this affect your pitching. You keep pitching inside.’ I appreciated that.”
Mariners manager Jerry Dipoto echoed that.
“He’s doing well,” Dipoto said in a statement. “He will be reassessed tomorrow to determine his game availability.”
Mann said he’s only hit two players in the helmet in his career – and now one of them is Ichiro.
“I grew up with Ken Griffey Jr. as my idol and then it was Ichiro – he was the man,” Mann said. “And I continued to follow his career.
“And I played in Japan (from 2011-13), which is another reason why I have so much respect for Japanese culture and their players. I know how hard they work. For me it was just an honor to be able to face him.”
He struck Ichiro out in the first at-bat.
He had set Ichiro up with a slider away and saw him leaning over the plate. So the plan was to go back with the fastball inside before it got away.
“And it’s very, very rare that I hit people,” Mann said. “I bet you in the past three years I’ve hit two guys with my fastball, with Ichiro now being one of them.”
Mann said he still lives in Tacoma during the offseason. He’s now in the Rangers’ farm system after he signed with them in early January.
Last year he was with the Athletics’ organization, pitching for Double-A Midland. He’s now 33 years old after originally being drafted by the Rays in the 27th round in the 2002 draft out of Mount Rainier, where he set the school’s record for strikeouts, said his former coach Darren Rawie.
The Mariners released utility infielder Gordon Beckham on Friday despite his impressive spring. Beckham was 16-for-47 (.333/.436/.553) with a home run in 19 spring games.
They also re-assigned RHP Christian Bergman to minor league camp. Bergman appeared in five games, making one start, with a 4.97 ERA in 12 2/3 innings. He struck out 10.
That leaves the Mariners with 36 players in Major League camp, 30 roster players and 6 nonroster invitees.
Making just his second Cactus League start of spring training: Felix Hernandez. He’ll go on Saturday in a 6:40 p.m. start against the Cubs. Hernandez had been out for four weeks after being hit in the upper forearm by a comebacker before returning in a minor league start on Tuesday.
This sets Hernandez up to start Opening Day against the Indians on Thursday at Safeco Field. The Mariners haven’t officially announced whether it would be him or Paxton, though.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677