Ichiro Suzuki sits at his locker, an interpreter by his side, and the nature of conversation with the future Hall of Famer gives him extra time to craft a response to the question: How much longer does he expect to play?
The query is relayed to him in Japanese.
Suzuki smiles as he replies with a joke that loses nothing in translation.
“At least until 50,” he says in Japanese.
Everyone laughs, despite the serious subject matter. Baseball does indeed have a clock, and Suzuki is racing it.
At 42, the Miami Marlins outfielder is the second-oldest player in the majors, three months younger than Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon, according to STATS.
Suzuki’s productivity declined dramatically last year, his first in Miami. Even though he played in 153 games due to injuries to teammates, including slugger Giancarlo Stanton, he batted a career-low .229. His .279 slugging percentage ranked 230th and last in among hitters with at least 325 plate appearances, and his .561 OPS was fourth-worst.
It was not a sudden drop off: Suzuki — who has played in at least 143 games each of the past 15 seasons, the longest such streak in the majors, according to STATS — has a career average of .314, but has not batted .300 since 2010.
However, he has 2,935 hits, leaving him on the verge of a milestone that tempers any temptation to retire. Anyway, he is not yet ready to make concessions to the clock.
“Nothing has stopped me because of the way I feel or the way I’m performing physically,” Suzuki said. “That may come down the road. Right now, I haven’t changed anything.”
He denies that chasing 3,000 is the motivation to keep going, saying he plays because he loves the game.
However, the countdown will add some uncharacteristic drama this season for the perennial also-ran Marlins.
“It would be an unbelievable great thing, but I’m a fourth outfielder,” Suzuki said. “If I was a starter heading into this year, it would be different. I could say in two months I should be there. You don’t know what kind of opportunities I’ll have.”
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