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Yu Darvish leaving Japan was the major story of the MLB offseason. When the season begins later this week, the headlines will all be about Ichiro Suzuki coming back.

Ichiro will participate in a regular-season game in Japan for the first time since his NPB days with the Orix BlueWave when his Seattle Mariners face the Oakland Athletics in the 2012 MLB Opening Series Japan at Tokyo Dome.

Ichiro last played in Japan as a member of Samurai Japan during the 2009 World Basebal Classic. He’s also participated in MLB All-Star tours to Japan as well as the WBC, but never in an official major league game.

Ichiro returns to Japan looking to get off to a fast start after his worst season in the majors. Ichiro hit a career-low .272 in 2011, his first sub-.300 year in the majors, and recorded 184 hits to finish below 200 for the first time.

“He’s going to come into this season determined with a little fire,” said former Mariners great Ken Griffey Jr., now a special consultant for the team, when the series was announced.

Ichiro and the Mariners were originally scheduled to play the A’s in Japan to start the 2003 season. That series was canceled due to the outbreak of war in Iraq. A’s manager Bob Melvin was the Mariners’ skipper at the time. Eric Wedge will be in charge of Seattle this time around.

“Little irony for me personally, in that in 2003, I was supposed to be here in charge of Eric’s team, but unfortunately it got canceled,” Melvin said at the news conference announcing the game. “We understood the reasons for it. But as an organization and representative of Major League Baseball, we were very excited about being potentially able to come.”

This will be the fourth opening series in Japan. The previous three featured the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs in 2000; the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays (as they were then known) in 2004; and the Boston Red Sox and A’s in 2008.

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