Team Japan manager visits Ichiro in Cincinnati

Team Japan manager visits Ichiro in Cincinnati

CINCINNATI -- A special guest greeted Ichiro Suzuki on Wednesday prior to the Marlins facing the Reds at Great American Ball Park. Hiroki Kokubo, manager of the Japanese National Team, spent some time talking with the iconic 42-year-old outfielder, who recently became the 30th player in MLB history to reach 3,000 hits.

They spoke in the Marlins' clubhouse, and Kokubo watched batting practice.

"The most important thing was to congratulate him on 3,000 hits," Kokubo said through an interpreter. "It's a really impressive number in Japan, of course. It's just an amazing accomplishment to think that he can come over here and do that. Japan was probably every bit as excited or perhaps even more excited than America over that."

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A subject that did not come up was whether Ichiro will participate in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. That's a decision for a later day, and Kokubo noted the preliminary rosters are expected to be put together before the end of the calendar year.

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"We had just a nice chat," Ichiro said in Japanese. "It wasn't anything about the WBC, at all."

Still, Ichiro makes it clear he is a fan of the tournament and enjoys international competition in general.

"Obviously, I'm always interested in that tournament," Ichiro said. "I love to watch it on TV. It's something."

Ichiro notes a number of sports, like soccer, have players in different leagues all over the world. But when it is time for international events, like the World Cup or Olympics, they represent their own countries.

"I think if you look at most of the major sports, you have an international tournament, where you become the No. 1 in the world," Ichiro said. "I think that's just something baseball has been behind in. I'd be curious to see how it is going forward."

Ichiro is an international sensation who set another milestone on Tuesday night in Miami's 6-3 loss to the Reds. His triple in the ninth inning was his first hit at Great American Ball Park. For the veteran outfielder, he's now had a hit in all active big league parks, and 40 total in his career.

In his 16th big league season, Ichiro remains a fan favorite. Before Wednesday's game, he signed autographs for a group of fans, several of them wearing his jersey.

When Ichiro sees fans from all countries wear his jersey, it is a reminder of how baseball brings people together.

"I think that wouldn't have happened if I wouldn't have come here and played in Major League Baseball," he said. "You can say that's how global MLB is, and how much of an effect that Major League Baseball has. This definitely wouldn't have happened if I wouldn't have come here to play.

"It doesn't really matter what country. I think baseball is just loved all over, not just here or in Japan. The love is there for baseball."

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for since 2002. 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.