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Ichiro reveling in Mariners' first half

Ichiro reveling in Mariners' first half

SAN FRANCISCO -- For those who are wondering or care, Seattle center fielder Ichiro Suzuki -- a free agent after the season -- has decided where he'll be playing next season.

"I'll be somewhere in the world," Ichiro said with a smile on Monday, as he answered some questions and skirted around others, mostly regarding his future, during the press gathering at the Westin St. Francis Hotel.

"The thing that depresses me is these types of questions," Ichiro said when pressed for an answer of where he might play next season.

But Ichiro was mostly in good spirits, not only with a large gathering of reporters from Japan but from the stateside press as well, where the Mariners' strong first half had him feeling lively.

He has good reason to smile.

The Mariners are 49-36 and only 2 1/2 games back of the Angels in the American League West, which is, oddly enough, the same number of games back they were last season, though they were just 43-46 at the break.

But this Seattle team -- from top to bottom -- has a totally different feel, a different vibe, he said

"The team is completely different than last year ... the mental state is different and how everyone is taking it is totally different than last year," Ichiro said. "There have been seasons in the past where the season would already be over at this point."

But, apparently, not this season as Seattle has surged to near the top of the division, even after manager Mike Hargrove abruptly resigned on July 1.

Ichiro wouldn't discuss Hargrove's resignation Monday, although it's public knowledge that he and Hargrove didn't always see eye to eye and that manager John McLaren has a good relationship with Ichiro, dating back to his rookie season in 2001.

Ichiro himself is off to another one of his strong starts. He's hitting .359 and is on pace to extend his Major League record for consecutive 200-hit seasons to begin a career to seven.

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But it's the greater success of the team that his him the most excited. The Mariners rank third in the Major Leagues in batting average (.283) and second in batting average with runners in scoring position (.290).

"This team has a lot of talent on it," he said. "If you look at our lineup up and down the order, the opposing pitcher really doesn't have a spot where he can take a break."

After playing center field the last two months of last season, Ichiro made the full-time conversion to the position this season. He said it's been a smooth transition.

"Now I'm happy about it, but when I first took the position, there was a lot of concern," Ichiro said. "I had confidence in myself but I didn't know how the team would operate once I made the change to center field. Now that I've played the position, I feel I can utilize more of my potential in that position."

As for where he'll be playing next season, the 34-year-old has been mum on the subject since Spring Training, when he said free agency was something he would think about but that he wouldn't address the issues again during the season.

So where will he end up?

"You can develop your own opinions," he said, still smiling.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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