Baseball is often called America’s national pastime. But players from around the world have made Seattle their home every season since the Mariners first took to the field in 1977.
Since that first season — when there were six players from outside the US on the roster — there’s been a steady increase in the number of international players, with foreign-born players making up over 40 percent of last year’s team.
The first Mariners home game of the new season is upon us, and new acquisition Robinson Cano (a native of the Dominican Republic) is off to a hot start.
Impress your friends with your worldly Mariners knowledge, as we run down some of the best foreign-born players to don a Seattle uniform:
10. Ryan Rowland-Smith (Born: Sydney, Australia. Position: Pitcher — Years with Mariners: 2007-2010)
One of the most successful Australian-born players in major league history, Rowland-Smith was serviceable both as a reliever and a starter in 115 appearances, including 47 starts, with the Mariners. However, he may be best known for his appearance in a 2009 commercial involving a cultural misunderstanding.
9. Michael Pineda (Born: Yaguate, Dominican Republic. Position: Pitcher — Year with Mariners: 2011)
While Pineda played just one season with the Mariners, he had one of the most memorable debuts in franchise history, impressing fans and players alike with a 100 mph fastball, and a slider that once made late announcer Dave Niehaus exclaim, “Oww, that stank!” Striking out nearly a quarter of the batters he faced, Pineda also made the American League All-Star team, one of only five Mariners to do so as a rookie.
8. Kenji Johjima (Born: Sasebo, Japan. Position: Catcher — Years with Mariners: 2006-2009)
The first Japanese player to catch full-time in the major leagues, Johjima had two strong offensive seasons in 2006 and 2007, combining to hit 32 home runs and 54 doubles over the two years. To date, he remains the only catcher to jump from Japan to the U.S, but told a reporter in 2010 he had a great experience with the Mariners and that, “Seattle will always have a place in my heart.”
7. Omar Vizquel (Born: Caracas, Venezuela. Position: Shortstop — Years with Mariners: 1989-1993)
Long before “Little O” became the major leagues’ all-time leader in games played at shortstop, he spent five seasons with the Mariners, winning a Gold Glove, given to the best fielder in baseball at each position, in his final year with the team in 1993. A trade to Cleveland after that season would leave many Mariners fans wondering what could have been, as Vizquel would go on to be one of the best defenders in the game, winning 10 more Gold Gloves in his career.
6. Hisashi Iwakuma (Born: Tokyo, Japan. Position: Pitcher — Years with Mariners: 2012-Present)
After representing Japan at the 2004 Summer Olympics and 2009 World Baseball Classic, Iwakuma has established himself as one of the top pitchers in the Major Leagues since joining the Mariners, finishing third in 2013 American League Cy Young voting, which goes to the league’s best pitcher.
5. Adrian Beltre (Born: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Position: Third Base — Years with Mariners: 2005-2009)
As one of the most-heralded free agent signings in franchise history, Beltre held down the hot corner at Safeco Field for five seasons, eclipsing the 25 home run mark three times. The third baseman is also one of four Mariners all-time to hit for the cycle, getting a single, double, triple, and home run in a game against Texas on Sept. 1, 2008.
4. Freddy Garcia (Born: Caracas, Venezuela. Position: Pitcher — Years with Mariners: 1999-2004)
Known affectionately as “the chief,” Garcia made a pair of All-Star teams as a Mariner in 2001 and 2002 after coming over from Houston in a trade for then-Mariners ace Randy Johnson in 1998. In six seasons with Seattle, Garcia won 76 games, including a career-high 18 in 2001.
3. Kazuhiro Sasaki (Born: Sendai City, Japan. Position: Pitcher — Years with Mariners: 2000-2003)
Sasaki joined the Mariners after ten seasons with the Yokohama Taiyo Whales and later BayStars, and became one of the most-dominant closers in franchise history, winning Rookie of the Year honors in 2000. Earning 129 saves in four seasons, Sasaki remains the franchise’s all-time leader in the category.
2. Felix Hernandez (Born: Valencia, Venezuela. Position: Pitcher — Years with Mariners: 2005-Present)
“King Felix” has been one of the team’s few bright spots in recent seasons, and has already etched himself in the history books as one of just 23 pitchers in the 135 years of Major League Baseball to pitch a perfect game, retiring the minimum 27 batters in order. As the only foreign-born Mariner to win a Cy Young Award, Hernandez has already established himself as a Seattle icon, and with six years left on his contract, he could easily eclipse the man holding the top spot …
1. Ichiro Suzuki (Born: Kasugai, Japan. Position: Outfielder — Years with Mariners: 2001-2012)
There’s little doubt that Ichiro, the first Japanese-born position player to be signed to the major leagues, gets the number one spot. Ichiro lived up to the hype and then some after making the leap to the U.S., being named to ten All-Star teams, winning ten Gold Glove Awards, three Silver Slugger awards, and setting the single-season record for hits (252 262 hits) in 2004.