Japanese fans and media on Tuesday hailed Ichiro Suzuki's surprise move to the New York Yankees as crowning his career and his best chance of clinching a World Series title before he retires.
Public broadcaster NHK led its midday news programme with the Japanese star's mid-season transfer from the Seattle Mariners and it made the front page of the country's biggest dailies -- even the business-focused Nikkei.
"To the elite club with sights set on conquering the world," said the Mainichi Shimbun's headline.
Suzuki moved to Seattle in 2001 from Japan's Orix Blue Wave, becoming the first Japanese non-pitcher in Major League Baseball, and his presence helped make the Mariners one of the most popular MLB clubs in his home country.
Now 38, the player remains hugely popular in Japan and the move is being seen as giving him a opportunity to win baseball's top honour before the end of his career, even as his figures fade.
The Yankees -- who acquired him to beef up their potent but injury-hit attack -- have won the World Series more times than any other club, while the Mariners are perennial strugglers.
Suzuki's father Nobuyuki, 69, told NHK that the transfer "left me with somewhat with mixed feelings".
"He had a childhood dream to beat the strongest team and become the number one. But the strongest are the Yankees, right?" he said.
Suzuki announced his move just before a Mariners-Yankees game in Seattle on Monday, in the middle of an unimpressive season that has seen him bat .261 with four home runs, 28 RBIs and 15 stolen bases.
He had his worst major league season ever last year, when he hit .272 and failed to reach 200 hits for the first time.
"I am going from a team that had the most losses to a team that has the most wins so it is hard to contain my excitement," Suzuki told a news conference in Seattle.
He wanted "to be in a different environment where I would be more stimulated", he said.
Sadaharu Oh, 72, who managed Japan's national team when Ichiro led them to the inaugural World Baseball Classic title in 2006, said: "I think he has gone out of his way to opt for a transfer to fire himself up once again.
"The Yankees are a team at the top of baseball and underachieving players are subject to severe criticism," said Oh, Japan's all-time home-run king.
Leading sports writer Seijun Ninomiya told the Asahi Shimbun: "He has a limited time left in his baseball career."
Takeyoshi Ito, 30, the manager of an MLB-themed restaurant in Tokyo, said that "Ichiro has always aspired to wear the (Yankees') pin stripes".
The Mariners are owned by the US subsidiary of Japanese video game maker Nintendo, but Ito told AFP: "The MLB fan base in Japan will grow as there is a difference in culture and mentality between the US west and east coasts."
Suzuki, a 10-time all-star, is a .322 career hitter and was the American League MVP in 2001. He was also named AL rookie of the year that season.