From the moment Ichiro Suzuki set foot in the Yankees clubhouse, he could sense a difference. He made reference to the outsized expectations in the Bronx, to the challenge of meeting those demands, to the thrill of competing under pressure.
In his nearly three months in pinstripes, the 10-time All-Star savored the sensation of a pennant race, with his own revival helping to drive the Yankees into the ALCS. A return engagement seemed possible.
And Wednesday, it finally became official. The Yankees re-signed the outfielder, agreeing to a two-year, $13-million deal.
"The Yankees are the kind of team that I always envisioned being a part of,'' Ichiro said in a statement. "Everyone in the world of competition has a strong desire to win, but the Yankees also have an atmosphere where losing is not an option. These two observations may sound similar, but I believe it is a rarity to find both coexisting in the same organization.''
By signing Ichiro to a two-year deal, the Yankees showed him the feeling was mutual. The Yankees' financial decisions have been guided by their determination to trim payroll to $189 million by 2014. That ceiling has discouraged general manager Brian Cashman from offering multiyear deals.
But with other teams willing to sign Ichiro for two years, the Yankees made a notable exception.
Ichiro finished the season hitting .283, though his production spiked after his July 23 trade from the Mariners to the Yankees.
He collected a hit in each of his first 12 games, offering a preview of what was to come. In 67 games with the Yankees, Ichiro batted .322 and swiped 14 bases.
For the first time since 2001, Ichiro reached the postseason. And he did it by blending in easily with a veteran-laden lineup.
His signing, however, doesn't come without some risk. The Yankees initially traded for Ichiro as an upgrade over reserve outfielder Dewayne Wise. He eventually carved himself a larger role with his second-half surge; though at 39, age remains a question.
But not to Ichiro.
In recent years, the Yankees have been rewarded for rolling the dice on older players. Ichiro made it clear Wednesday night that he intends to join those ranks.
"I believe the Yankees organization appreciates that there is a difference between a 39-year-old who has played relying only on talent, and a 39-year-old who has prepared, practiced and thought thoroughly through many experiences for their craft," Ichiro said. "I am very thankful, and I will do my best to deliver on their expectations."