Ichiro's voice quivered as he spoke of the support he has received since joining the Mariners in 2001, saying he was "overcome with sadness" at the thought of never wearing a Seattle uniform again.
But Ichiro said he recognized he no longer fit on a young and rebuilding Mariners club, approving the trade to the Yankees because he believes it offers him a good chance at winning a World Series title.
"I think he's going to fit in great," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He made the decision to want to make a move. Because he was on board with it, I think he's excited about it. I don't think this will be a real big adjustment for him."
The pieces of the deal came together so quickly, Girardi had been planning to put together his usual lineup before team brass told him to wait. As Ichiro stepped in for his first at-bat as a Yankee, he bowed and doffed his helmet before lining a single to center field off Kevin Millwood.
The Yankees sent right-handers D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar to Seattle to complete the deal, and will assume just $2.5 million of Ichiro's contract until he is eligible for free agency next year. The Yankees designated outfielder Dewayne Wise for assignment to create room for Ichiro.
"This was something that was a surprise," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "It's an opportunity. I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out for us, because I do think he can really help us. I look forward to seeing if that's the case or not."
While Ichiro's performance has dipped at age 38 and he is no longer the impact player who notched 2,533 hits with Seattle, the Yankees are hoping he can simply step in and be a complementary piece to replace the injured Brett Gardner, who hasn't played since April 17 and is out for the season.
"I've enjoyed playing against him for 11 1/2 years; he's someone I've always admired from afar," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. "I've had the opportunity to play with a lot of great players throughout the years. I'm looking forward to playing with him."
Ichiro is playing right field for now, as the Yankees expect to get Nick Swisher back from a left hip flexor strain when they return to the Bronx on Friday. Ichiro said that he does not have much experience in left field, but the thought does bring fond memories.
"I haven't played left for a long time, to be honest with you, but the last time I played left was a playoff game -- my first playoff game in Yankee Stadium [in 2001], so it's a very memorable position for me for that reason," he said.
Cashman said that the initial trade winds formed in conversations between Mariners president Chuck Armstrong and Yankees president Randy Levine. Cashman and his Mariners counterpart, Jack Zduriencik, hammered out the final agreement on Monday.
"This was a conversation that stood above the general managers," Cashman said. "Randy asked me, 'Would you have an interest in Ichiro? There might be something that could make sense.' From there we went."
As he was welcomed into the clubhouse, Ichiro shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes before hugging Freddy Garcia, a former Seattle teammate. Alex Rodriguez called Ichiro a "great guy."
Rafael Soriano, who also played with Ichiro in Seattle, jokingly admonished the outfielder, "Don't be late for stretch. 5:30." He heeded Soriano's warning; Ichiro was on time, jogging out of the third-base dugout to shrieks and cheers from his old home crowd.
Ichiro spent some of his time on Monday discussing uniform numbers with Rob Cucuzza, the club's equipment manager. Ichiro's No. 51 may be iconic in Seattle, but when embroidered on pinstripes, it evokes Bernie Williams -- and no Yankee has worn it since. Ichiro yielded, selecting No. 31 instead.
"Of course No. 51 is a special number to me, but when I think about what 51 means to the Yankees, it's hard for me to ask for that number," Ichiro said. "I'd like to have a new number and then make that my own."
Now in his 12th big league season, Ichiro switched clubhouses batting .261 with four home runs, 28 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 95 games for Seattle. He believes that coming to New York will rejuvenate his performance.
"Of course, that is my intention," Ichiro said. "Especially looking at how the Yankees are doing right now, I just want to do whatever I can to be helpful to the Yankees."