Editor’s note: Art Thiel, former Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist, will be covering the Mariners while they are in Japan for The News Tribune. Here is his first dispatch:
TOKYO — Wearing a pork-pie hat and high-water jeans, the hipster at baggage claim looked a little familiar, except he was just about alone.
“Welcome to Japan,” I said. He smiled.
“Let me welcome you to Japan,” he said. I beat Ichiro by an hour Friday, but he had me by 38 years and change regarding trips to his native sod.
The Oakland A’s charter flight, bearing some media personnel, arrived about an hour ahead of the Seattle Mariners charter at Narita International Airport. So a few us from Seattle decided to wait, then jump on the Mariner buses for the drive to the Tokyo hotel.
Ichiro was once again hitting leadoff. Because he is a Japanese national, he had a much shorter customs line to navigate than the foreigners. So he was first through customs and first down the escalator. A few Mariners staffers showed up to start grabbing bags. Ichiro’s baggage cart quickly filled up with suitcases. The fashionista was not about to be caught in his homeland with just a couple of change of clothes.
After passing through bag check he was greeted at the exit by several dozen screaming fans and about 50 or 60 media personnel awaiting his arrival. He whooshed past them and onto the waiting bus before I could ask whether he would recommend a restaurant so we could sample one of his favorite delicacies: Beef tongue. (It’s true that he likes it and false that I would try it, but what else to talk about at baggage carousel 5?)
His hurry was understandable, but fruitless. Friday night rush hour combined with a steady Seattle rain to make the bus trip a two-hour crawl to the Akasaka-district hotel. The 12-hour plane flight seemed almost easy by comparison.
The players will work out the trans-Pacific kinks Saturday at a Tokyo Dome workout, before the Major League Baseball teams play exhibition games Sunday against the Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants.
By then, Ichiro will be hitting third. A new custom.