I am an unashamed, die hard fan of the Cincinnati Reds. I wear it on my sleeve, and I know it often comes through here on the blog. But as of today, my favorite major league player doesn’t wear red. He wears blue.
Munenori Kawasaki was signed by the Toronto Blue Jays to a minor league contract in March. After Spring Training, he was assigned to Triple-A Buffalo. An injury to starting shortstop Jose Reyes was the only reason he was ever even promoted to the Jays’ roster.
The 32-year-old Japanese player is unassuming. He stands just 5’10” and weighs a measly 165 pounds. That’s what they list him at in the team program, meaning even those slight measurements are probably inflated.
His statistics don’t wow. He’s played in 59 games so far this year, and is batting just .228, though he does get on base at a better clip than he should considering his average.
So what is it that makes Kawasaki so awesome, since it obviously isn’t his measurables and isn’t his numbers?
It’s everything else.
It’s his interviews. When he speaks, I can’t tell if he’s serious or if he’s cutting a professional wrestling styled promo. He’s even resorted to using props (is there really anything written in those little books?).
It’s his on-field dramatics. Check out this beautifully styled fake steal from June 7 and admire the respectful bows he shares to teammates and fans after knocking his first career home run. Admittedly, I probably appreciate that kind of flare a lot more than his opponents do.
It’s his dance moves. After belting a game-tying home run on Friday, he led the team in post-game celebratory boogie on the plane ride home. And after watching the throwback video featuring his days with Seattle, you’ll realize why he claims to be the Japanese Michael Jackson.
It’s his singing voice, too. Coincidentally, Kawasaki knows just as many words to the Canadian National Anthem as I do.
But most importantly, it’s what he’s meant to this year’s Blue Jays team. After acquiring Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey in the offseason, expectations were sky high for Toronto entering 2013. And after stumbling to an 11-game under
.500 start by the first week of May and finding themselves in dead last in the American League East, the pressure on the Jays players had to be almost overwhelming.
Then came the Reyes ankle sprain that was supposed to doom this team. Instead, it paved the way for Kawasaki, who has proven to be the pressure release the guys in the clubhouse needed to get their season back on track.
Now the Jays have won 11 straight games, and are right in the thick of the divisional dog fight. One could argue that Kawasaki’s exuberance, flamboyance and infectious energy has saved Toronto’s season. Kawasaki has an amazing ability to maximize all that is fun about baseball. Sometimes we forget that these grown men are playing a child’s game for a living. The sport needs personality, and Kawasaki brings tons to the table.
Which leaves the Blue Jays with a difficult decision to make in the near future, when Reyes is ready to return to take over the shortstop position.
Ben Nicholson-Smith of SportsNet opines on what the Jays should do when that time comes. Kawasaki is not best suited for a utility row. His defense is average at best, and he is not able to play multiple positions. Toronto must decide if the intangibles he brings to the team and clubhouse warrant keeping him on the roster above a player who might offer more on the field or out of the bullpen.
It’s an extremely difficult decision to make, especially considering how the fans and Kawasaki’s teammates have embraced him. I, for one, certainly hope he stays in the big leagues, and that the YouTube videos keep on coming.