Ichiro Suzuki and Kenji Johjima led their Team Japan to the World Baseball Classic, and on Thursday will report to Seattle Mariners spring camp for the first time this year.
One of the issues manager Don Wakamatsu has talked about is what Ichiro and Kenji see when they arrive. Clearly, the Mariners want it to be something the two haven't seen in recent years.
"We're trying to create a new environment, a new attitude and a new approach," Wakamatsu said. "I think the guys in camp have bought into it. I think Ichiro and Kenji will see the difference."
On the playing field, the approach has been one of aggression rather than patience. This is a team that hasn't waited for the big inning, a group that's manufactured runs – and made mistakes – by bunting, running, putting players in motion.
It's also been a team marked by a sound not heard often in the past few years: laughter.
The joy of playing baseball, bonding with teammates, working together as opposed to worrying only about ones self doesn't show up in sabermetrics. Sometimes, it doesn't show up in the standings, either.
But almost everyone will acknowledge that – whatever the job – laughter is a good thing, and camaraderie can't hurt.
This is a coaching staff that, from Wakamatsu through bullpen coach John Wetteland, values teaching. They want things done correctly, they want the game played a certain way.
And no one on the staff is averse to laughing.
Since camp opened, the Mariners have focused on playing the game fundamentally well – learning from mistakes made – and having fun doing so. The spring record (12-12-1) is a bit stunning, in large part because the wins have come without the team's regulars filling the lineup.
What Ichiro and Kenji will walk in to Thursday is a camp where advancing runners, even with outs, is stressed. Where scoring runs is as much a result of aggression as the three-run home run.
They should like that. And laughing along the way certainly can't hurt.
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