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Commentary: Ichiro, Avril were role models, whose exits pave way for exciting futures for M’s, Hawks

I’ve told this story before, but I’ll tell it again. The first time I saw Cliff Avril was at a Benihana’s right after he signed with the Seahawks. He was alone, but amongst a group of strangers at the table behind us. He introduced himself to everyone as “Cliff.”

When he was done, he paid his bill, said his pleasantries and left. And when everyone else at that table asked for their bill, the waitress said: “It was already taken care of.” Avril had paid the entire bill.

Cliff Avril had made ten fans in Seattle before he even took the field. But it was a small gesture that represented everything Avril has stood for – as a player, and as a man. From his charity work, building houses and schools in his native Haiti, to his contributions to our local community, and his Pro Bowl caliber play on the field, Avril became a fan favorite and an example to others.

This week, both Avril and Ichiro stepped aside from their respective teams. The word “retirement” was not used in either case. But the words “role model” should.

The simple fact that Ichiro was willing to come back to Seattle - and remains here in a mentoring role - speaks volumes about his character too. After spending the majority of a Hall of Fame career here, the statistics speak for themselves in terms of setting a standard for others. But his willingness to stay around and now provide guidance for these new teammates shows reciprocation to a franchise and a city that’s embraced him throughout his career.

This isn’t a comparison between on-field legacies, because that would be unfair. But to me at least, this week is less disappointing as it should be, because both men’s journeys continue in a different form.

If the Mariners reach the playoffs for the first time since 2001, I’d rather have guys like Ichiro and Edgar Martinez playing roles in that success and celebrating on the field too. And by all indications, Avril is hanging around Seattle too, continuing to play a positive role in both the sports scene and community as a whole.

Both athletes have paved the way for a new generation of athletes, for which we can all be excited. We talked about it last week after the draft with the Hawks. And with the M’s, well, the glimpses we’ve seen this season including last night, speak for themselves.

So this week we said a modified farewell, but far from a goodbye. A thank you for what they’ve done, but also what they’ll still do.

Both franchises are all the better because of both men. But most importantly, our city is too.