When Ichiro Suzuki announced he would take a sabbatical from playing to work for the Seattle Mariners' front office, Japanese baseball notables, including Sadaharu Oh, applauded on Friday.
"One would think it's the best choice, for Ichiro, for the Mariners," said Oh, a Hall of Famer as Japan's all-time home run king and current chairman of the SoftBank Hawks. "He's not 100 percent retiring, so that's leaving open the possibility he will once more stand in the batter's box."
"Leaving is the most difficult thing," he added.
Those in Japan expressed awe for the high regard the Mariners hold for their longtime star.
(Oh and Ichiro celebrate after Japan's World Baseball Classic victory in March 2006)
Yomiuri Giants reliever Koji Uehara, who returned this season to Japan after nine years in the majors -- and who contemplated retiring over the winter -- expressed admiration and envy that a player could receive so much respect from a team.
"To be able to stay with the team shows how much love there is there," Uehara said. "I envy him, to have that much experience and to have produced so much that the team can't bear to part with you."
Another former big leaguer, pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Chunichi Dragons, said the Mariners' offer to have him stay on as a special assistant to the team's chairman was testament to Suzuki's contributions.
"As someone who has played in the big leagues, I think a team asking a player for that kind of support is incredible," said Matsuzaka, who has bounced around after long stints with the Seibu Lions and Boston Red Sox.
"That is a testament to what Ichiro has accomplished," he said.
In 2001, Ichiro captured American baseball's imagination not only with his trademark ability to produce hits but also with his speed and creativity on the bases and in the field, as well as his glove and his throwing arm.
This year, slugging Los Angeles Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani has made similar waves in his debut out of Japan. Before he arrived, the word was only that Ohtani would attempt to do what no other major leaguers attempt -- to pitch and hit at an elite level.
But since the start of the season, fans have been taken back by Ohtani's speed -- not only with his fastball on the mound, but the velocity of balls rocketing off his bat and his ability to fly around the bases.
Born after Suzuki turned pro with the Orix BlueWave in 1992, the 23-year-old Ohtani said Ichiro will always be an example for him to emulate.
"For a long time, I've held him up as a kind of goal," Ohtani said after his game on Thursday. "But that's not going to change going forward. I want to do my best every day so I can come as close (to that goal) as I possibly can."