Griffey Tickles Ichiro's Fancy, ArmpitsS

Today, the Tacoma News Tribune takes a long look at the blossoming friendship between Ichiro and Ken Griffey Jr. Among the many touching revelations: Griffey will tickle Ichiro until he calls out what one might describe as a safe word.

Ichiro is apparently happy for the first time in years, and if the News Tribune's Larry LaRue is to be believed, this has a lot to do with Ken Griffey Jr. and his magic fingers:

Ichiro Suzuki spreads a towel on the carpeted floor in front of his locker, lies on his back and begins doing stretching exercises. From Ichiro's blind side, Ken Griffey Jr. pounces, gets his hands deep under Ichiro's armpits and digs in with his fingers.

Ichiro's laughter is almost childlike – genuine and uncontrolled – and after about five seconds he screams the magic word to make Griffey stop.

Junior stands up, walks back to his locker and sits down. Ichiro lies quietly for a moment, letting his body relax, then goes back to stretching as if nothing had happened.

[...]

"He's the only teammate I would ever let do that. In Japan, all relationships are respectful, so no one would ever do that to me," Ichiro said. "If someone else did it here, I'd probably punch them in the face."

Their relationship is secure enough that Griffey can offer frank appraisals of Ichiro's looks:

Each day when Ichiro enters the clubhouse in street clothes, Junior goes through a five-point rating process.

"I'd wear that shirt," he said in Denver. "The pants, no. That belt? No. Shoes? Yeah, I might wear those. But that man purse? No (bleeping) way. You're 2-for-5 today."

And then there are all the long, lingering looks into each other's eyes:

Griffin, the trainer, said walking through the clubhouse in that final hour before a game, Ichiro and Junior can be a bit unnerving.

"Sometimes they'll each be at their locker, just staring at one another," he said.

Ichiro, at 35, is putting up the best numbers of his career, a fact that some attribute to that reliable chimera, clubhouse chemistry. It's a lot of nonsense, of course, but there's something intriguing about the idea that Ichiro is hitting a robust .360 because he at last has a teammate to tickle him.

A happier Ichiro? Mariners can thank Junior [News Tribune, via Enjoy the Enjoyment]