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Ichiro Suzuki: “He knows his death as a baseball player is getting closer”

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Those are the words of a former teammate of Ichiro’s from the Orix Blue Wave. They come in a must-read article by Wright Thompson in ESPN the Magazine about the 44-year-old future Hall of Famer’s drive to keep playing.

That drive paid off in the form of a major league deal offered by the Seattle Mariners which Ichiro accepted last week. Most people are viewing it as a nostalgia trip for the Mariners and the only way Ichiro can keep playing in America. That may or may not be true, but the desire — which teeters on the edge of desperation — is chronicled in detail by Thompson, who was granted access to Ichiro that no one in this country has ever had.

It’s a fascinating story giving us a glimpse at an Ichiro who, for as major a figure he has been in major league baseball over the past 17 years, is someone we know relatively little about. And even if we knew a lot about him, it chronicles a chapter of his career — perhaps his last offseason before his whole life becomes an offseason — for which perhaps the most prepared baseball player in the past several decades seems shockingly unprepared.

If you read nothing else today, read this.

Bryce Harper will participate in the Home Run Derby if he makes the All-Star team

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Bryce Harper has, in recent years, declined participation in the Home Run Derby, with his last go at it coming in 2013, losing to Yoenis Cespedes in the final round. With the All-Star Game taking place at Nationals Park in Washington, however, he has changed his mind, saying today that he will compete if he is selected for the All-Star team.

Harper is currently second in voting among National League outfielders, so he stands a pretty good chance of making it. Even if he falls off in the voting, you have to assume that the powers that be will nudge NL manager A.J. Hinch to select Harper as a reserve, partially because of his actual power — he does have 19 homers so far this year — but mostly for his star power.

Simply put, you know dang well that both Major League Baseball and the Nationals want a home town guy with big time star power in the Derby, even if he’s not having as good a year as he’s capable of. As such, figure to see Harper hitting long balls in D.C. on July 16.