BALTIMORE (Reuters) - Ichiro Suzuki loves playing for the New York Yankees so much that even getting jeered is music to his ears.
The future Hall of Famer no longer possesses the skills he had when he broke into the majors with the Seattle Mariners in 2001 but is playing with the enthusiasm of a rookie.
“I always wanted this type of atmosphere before coming to America,” Suzuki said Monday through an interpreter before the Yankees played the Baltimore Orioles in the second game of the best-of-five American League Division Series.
“I was hoping that I could be in this type of environment playing with these types of players.”
The 38-year-old Japanese outfielder had two hits, two runs batted in and scored a run in Sunday’s series-opening 7-2 Yankees win before a sold-out crowd of 47,841 at Camden Yards.
Suzuki had not played postseason baseball since 2001 when the Mariners lost in the AL Championship Series to, perhaps fittingly, the Yankees.
The 10-time All-Star said he thought he would be keyed up to return to playoff baseball but was unexpectedly calm, probably due to his playing at Yankee Stadium since his trade from the Mariners in July.
”The atmosphere of the stadium was obviously different, and I didn’t know how I was going to react,“ he said. ”I didn’t think that I wouldn’t be able to control my excitement.
“But that wasn’t the case, maybe because I‘m with the Yankees and just the atmosphere that we have at the stadium.”
Suzuki’s .322 batting average since arriving in New York has delighted manager Joe Girardi, who could not have imagined getting that type of consistent production from the outfielder.
Girardi said playing with the Yankees’ highly paid veterans has paid off for Suzuki, who had a 10-year streak of getting at least 200 hits snapped last year. It is a different atmosphere than in Seattle where he was the top gun for a decade.
”He’s comfortable where he’s at,“ said Girardi. ”He is around the guys a lot more that are his age group and his peer group. We’ve given him some days off, so he’s remained fresh.
“He has not had to have been the focal point of the lineup and been the guy that’s expected to produce a lot. He just needs to be part of what’s a really deep lineup. And he’s enjoyed it.”
Suzuki even relished the less-than-gracious greeting he received from Baltimore fans on Monday.
“You come on the road and you get booed by the fans, but that felt really good,” he said with a smile.
Editing by Frank Pingue