It all began with the Jays’ newly acquired all-star shortstop, Jose Reyes turning his ankle on a poorly executed late slide on a steal attempt of 2nd base that put him on the DL for 60 days. The result was the Blue Jays needed a person to fill the void at Reyes’ position, short stop, cue Munenori Kawasaki, a 32 year old professional baseball player out of Japan. When fans first received the news that he would be the call up from AAA affiliate, Buffalo Bisons to momentarily fill in for Reyes, I’d bet dollars to donuts that more than 66% of them did not know who he was.
If you were one of those fans, you then typed his name into google, and the first thing you would likely find was a video or gif of him dancing in the Mariners dugout. And most likely one of two things came to your mind, 1. This guy is a clown, what is he doing here? Or 2. This is hilarious, this guy seems to have a great personality. I would think Blue Jays fans are more optimistic than pessimistic, so I assume the latter. The dancing was fun and all, but it did not show in anyway whether or not he was a good baseball player.
A brief history on the man they call ‘Mune’, before his arrival to the MLB, he was a 2-time gold glover in Japan where he played shortstop for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks from 2000-2011, during that time he also won a batting title, had 8 all-star appearances. In addition, if you were a viewer of the World Baseball Classic, you may have recognized him from Japan’s gold medal winning team in both 2006 and 2009.
In 2012, he got a minor league contract offer from a major league baseball club, the Seattle Mariners, to potentially play along side his idol and fellow Japanese player, Ichiro Suzuki. Although his time with Seattle was short lived, Kawasaki gave the world a glimpse of his hilarious antics (including the dance in the dugout and his now famous ‘running in one spot to fake a steal’ move), which later on made him such a fan favourite.
Blue Jays signed him in 2013 to another minor league contract, and had him start the season in AAA Buffalo with the Bisons.
With the injury to Reyes on April 12th, Blue Jays gave the now sophomore major leaguer a call up, all while GM Alex Anthopoulos was still busy on the phones looking to acquire a temporary replacement at shortstop via trade. Many had no idea what to expect from Kawasaki, having only played 61 games in his 1st major league season with the M’s and batting .192 with a .459 OPS. The Blue Jays and everyone watching would soon see what kind of player he is.
With his debut on April 13th, Munenori Kawasaki became the first Japanese born position player to play for the Toronto Blue Jays. None of his numbers are eye popping by any means, but one thing you know you will get from Kawasaki are consistent at-bats where he will battle the pitcher, work the count, and find a way to get on base, as evident by his current .337 on-base percentage. This along with his solid defensive abilities at shortstop made Alex rethink the need to acquire another short stop to fill the void. With his underdog-like stature (being 5’10”, 165lbs), along with his apparent love of the game (you will always see him being one of the first players on the field on game day performing his stretching routine which consists of him doing handstands against the wall), and his respectful bowing after every out made, all in combination slowly made him become a fan favourite in Toronto.
But Munenori didn’t really get noticed by the rest of the league until one afternoon day game in Toronto, where he went viral. May 26th against the Baltimore Orioles, the Jays were down 5-2 to begin the 9th and had rallied back to within 2 runs, and with two runners on base, up came the #9 hitter in the batting order, Munenori Kawasaki. What came next was a sight to see. He proceeded to deliver the game winning walk off 2 run double to complete the comeback, like Rudy when he was carried off the field after making the tackle, Kawasaki was carried in the air by teammates after reaching 3rd base. However it was what followed that got him noticed all throughout the baseball world. Barely having a grasp of the English language, he was encouraged by his teammate, Mark DeRosa to do the post-game interview with Arash Madani on Sportsnet (with assistance of his small book). And what ensued was pure enjoyment and happiness:
Added to his growing popularity already to the city of Toronto, this is what put him over the top and arguably the most popular athlete in the city of Toronto. In the days and weeks that followed, he would be cheered throughout the Rogers Centre when his name was announced during the starting lineups (always as the #9 hitter), and his name chanted when he came up to bat in any sort of key situation in the game.
Fast forward to June 25th, the Blue Jays all-star shortstop Jose Reyes has returned from his long rehab stint, and is ready to rejoin the team in Tampa. Now comes the decision of who to send down back to AAA to allow Reyes to rejoin the 25 man roster. Options include arms out of the bullpen (with options): Neil Wagner, Aaron Loup. (without options): Juan Perez, Dustin McGowan. As well as 2nd baseman and utility player, Emilio Bonifacio, who in this short season has worse numbers than Kawasaki.
Blue Jays ultimately made their decision to send down Kawasaki, as John Gibbons gathered the entire team after the game to announce that Munenori has been optioned to AAA Buffalo. But rest assured Blue Jays fans, this will not be the last you see of him. If he still in the organization by September, barring any injuries, he will become a September call-up when rosters expand to 40 man.
It is an incredible story how a relatively unknown Japanese baseball player became the most popular athlete in Toronto in a short span of 2 months.
His parting words to the fans:
His name is Munenori Kawasaki, and he is Japanese.
And if you’re not sick of him already, here are some more of his entertaining antics that occurred in the past 3 months.
Kawasaki on Intentional Talk:
Kawasaki’s 1st major league home run (and the curtain call that followed):
And the victory dance after the Blue Jays won their franchise tying 11th straight game: