At 42, Ichiro still driven by passion for game

Veteran will bring special dimension to Marlins in 16th MLB season

At 42, Ichiro still driven by passion for game

MIAMI -- If age indeed is just a number, then add another benchmark to Ichiro Suzuki's seemingly never-ending list. The 10-time All-Star is celebrating his 42nd birthday on Thursday, and he has no intention of walking away from the game any time soon.

Ichiro avoided any speculation about his future when he re-signed with the Marlins two days after the regular season ended. The third-oldest active player in the Majors has a comfort level in Miami, and his passion for the game has rubbed off on the rest of the organization.

"Off the field, Ichiro has been one of the most interesting players I've personally come across, since I've got into this game," team president David Samson said the day the club announced Ichiro signed for 2016. "Forget his love of the game, and the fact he's in the best shape of any player I've seen at any age.

"His desire to play baseball the right way, to be respectful of Major League Baseball, respectful of other players and the game itself and the traditions of the game."

Marlins re-sign Ichiro

Ichiro is the oldest position player in the Majors. Only pitchers LaTroy Hawkins and Bartolo Colon -- both 42 -- are older. At the end of the regular season, Hawkins was 42 years, 287 days old, while Colon was 42 years and 133 days old.

In Marlins' history, pitcher Charlie Hough (46) and outfielders Tim Raines (43) and Andre Dawson (42) surpassed Ichiro in age.

The 2016 season will be Ichiro's 16th in the big leagues, and it promises to be a memorable one because he's 65 hits shy of reaching 3,000. He's also two stolen bases away from 500.

Even though the Marlins endured a disappointing 71-91 season, Ichiro made it clear he enjoyed playing in Miami, and he believes the future is bright for the organization.

"Anyone who watches this team can see that we have a lot of talent," Ichiro said after the final game of the season. "But I can really say this is the best group of guys that I've been around. The best teammates I have played with. This team, if we can do the little things, the possibilities are endless. We have a real bright future here."

When Ichiro initially signed with Miami prior to the 2015 season, it was to be the fourth outfielder. That again will be his role. But due to injuries, Ichiro ended up receiving ample playing time, and he actually led the team in games played -- 153.

That was not the intention when he was first signed, and the grind of the season took its toll. His slash line was .229/.282/.279.

In August, he was productive in 27 games, batting .270/.333/.371.

But in his final 28 games, he was 10-for-72 (.139).

"Ichiro would never tell us he was tired," Samson said. "Do we think he was tired toward the end of the year? He's human. He'd have to be. Everyone was tired, and he played almost every day."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.