When Ichiro Suzuki crashed the major leagues in 2001, what struck many, beyond his wizardry with the bat, was this inimitable presence, a style and savoir-faire that ran in deep contrast to the tobacco-stained American ballplayer. It wasn't that Ichiro was Japanese; he was new, magnetic, mysterious.

He valued the same thing in others, too. He appreciated Rod Carew's austerity with words, Paul Molitor's quiet strength, Buck O'Neil's aura. Ichiro loved everything about Buck. They were two men from different eras with different skin colors, different bank accounts, different perspectives. And yet their love of baseball and desire to make the game better bridged the language gap and forged a relationship likelier than one might think.

Buck's joy was osmotic, and Ichiro will think about him in moments like today, in which his struggles are undeniable. Whether it's age or something else, Ichiro, 38, is struggling like never before: an on-base percentage below .300, a batting average almost 60 points shy of his career norm and questions about his future following this season, when he's due to hit free agency.

Before he died in 2006, Buck often spoke of players he enjoyed watching. He had an affinity for those who stayed in one place their whole career. Ichiro's marriage to the Seattle Mariners seemed a fait accompli until recently, and in a rare interview, he told Yahoo! Sports this week that his return is no certainty.

"It's going to go both ways," Ichiro said through his translator, Antony Suzuki. "It can't just come from the player. It's got to come from the team, too. If the team is saying they need you, you're necessary, then it becomes a piece. But if it's just coming from the player, it's not going to happen."