PITTSBURGH — Major League Baseball loves to promote the fact that the All-Star Game now means more than bragging rights, with the winning league earning home-field advantage for the World Series.
Ichiro isn't buying into it, however. He still treats the game as an exhibition, and candidly admitted he has little interest in the outcome.
"To be honest, I think it's more important to have fun than winning," he said through interpreter Ken Barron prior to Tuesday's 3-2 American League victory.
"If you talk to the manager, I think of course he probably has a different thought about that. But as a player, the most important thing is [to] enjoy playing baseball."
That flies in the face of MLB's "This Time It Counts" philosophy, adopted three years ago after the fiasco in Milwaukee when the sides ran out of players and finished tied.
"Even with that [the bestowing of the home field to the winning league], it's about pleasing the fans," said Ichiro, who was 0 for 3 Tuesday in his sixth All-Star Game. "As a result, if we get a win and get home-field advantage, of course I'm very happy about that. But I don't really make it as a big goal for me to win this game."
Ichiro said when he used to watch the All-Star Game in Japan, he didn't pay much attention to the outcome.
"I was a huge Ken Griffey Jr. fan," he recalled. "I was always thinking, 'When is Griffey's at-bat? When is Griffey's at-bat?' To tell you the truth, I didn't really care about all the other players."
That might be the same feeling that fans watching Tuesday's game in Japan had about Ichiro's at-bats.
"If that was the case, it would make me very happy," he said.
Ichiro praised for being a guy who really cares
Jim Thome, who lockered next to Ichiro during the All-Star Game, was impressed that Ichiro inquired about Thome's nephew, Brandon Thome, who four years ago was paralyzed in a swimming accident.
"That meant a lot," Thome said. "I've admired him, first of all, as a player. When he does things like that, it hits you that this is a pretty good guy that really cares. Personally, I like that a lot. He took the time out to ask, he signed something for my nephew. It's good to be next to him."
On the other side of Ichiro in the visiting clubhouse at PNC Park was Minnesota's standout catcher, Joe Mauer, who also enjoyed the experience. When Mauer arrived at his locker Tuesday, Ichiro greeted him with a hearty, "Joe! What's up, dude?"
"It's cool just to hang out with him," Mauer said. "He's been a player I've enjoyed watching. I talked to him about his routines, little things, like what kind of bat he uses.
"I told him I'm going to try to get on his stretching program. He says he stretches for an hour every day. I don't like to stretch, but if I can get as flexible as him, it's worth it."
The lumbering Thome wasn't quite as eager to buy into Ichiro's stretching program.
"With my injuries, I should," he said with a laugh. "He can get out a little farther than me."
Added Thome: "I've had a chance to be next to [Cal] Ripken, Griffey. I've always said that at All-Star Games, you should take a little bit from every player, and try to learn about him as a person."
His sensitivity-school teachers would be proud
There was a bizarre moment before the game when the image of Jay Mariotti, the Chicago columnist who drew the ire of Ozzie Guillen a few weeks ago, appeared on the big-screen television in the AL clubhouse.
Mariotti was opining about the All-Star Game on one of the cable networks. When Guillen, who was ordered to go to sensitivity training for insulting Mariotti with inappropriate language, saw Mariotti on the TV, he held his finger to his mouth and said, "Shhhhhhh."
Then he added, sarcastically, "Now we're going to learn something about baseball."