It's not often that a player goes from unknown to "I'll take any contract" to Spring Training to not really being anything more than he was advertised offensively to hero and fan favorite but Munenori Kawasaki has done just that. A relationship that started out as "Okay, let's give it a go because you're basically giving it away" has gone to "Dude, we love you. We really, really love you."
And it's not like Kawasaki is anything special as a baseball player. Through 15 games and 32 plate appearances, he is hitting .214/.313/.214, .221 wOBA, 38 wRC+, .000 ISO and -0.3 fWAR. It's not a large sample size but it's also not a large sample size because for all intents and purposes, Kawasaki is the 25th man on this roster. He's the backup to a SS hitting .147 and yet nobody would question that he is the backup because Brendan Ryan is still a great defensive shortstop and Kawasaki is not a great hitter.
Yet, here I sit thinking about Mariners baseball and here I sit mostly thinking about Munenori Kawasaki because he's the kind of player that I think every team would be lucky to have. A player that seems to go about his business every day feeling blessed that this is the business that he gets to go about every day. The great players, sometimes it seems as though they take it for granted and let the moments pass them by. Hell, even some of the bad or average players seem to do the same. But Kawasaki seems like the type of player that can't believe he's actually here and doesn't let a second pass him by where he's not thinking: "私の人生は夢です"
"My life is a dream."
As fans, we appreciate that because it's what we would be thinking if we were given the opportunity. We would do it for free if we only were given the chance (though we'd have to fire our agent) and it seems clear to me that Kawasaki would do this for free if he had to. He'd get a part time job at Red Mango if it was necessary and even then it seems like he'd be the happiest employee at Red Mango, eagerly waiting to hear what toppings you wanted and commenting on what were his favorites.
What started as an unknown and as nothing more than a Japanese name that most of us had never heard of before has turned into an opportunity to relish the moments we have watching a player for the Mariners that is like a projection of ourselves, the fans, if we had the chance to play for the Mariners.
This is how it started and this is what it's come to:
November 30, 2011: Japanese FA Kawasaki will only play for Mariners
It started off as a fanpost by Andrew McQ
Chipanese wastes no time in pointing out the similarities:
I think I remember him from the WBC
I kept thinking he was Ichiro because they had identical styles.
The stalker jokes waste no time either.
Dec. 1, 2011: Munenori Kawasaki Asks Mariners Out
The quick scouting report wasn't much to get excited about, but it did fill a need:
I’m grading him higher than (Tsuyoshi) Nishioka and (Hiroyuki) Nakajima in baserunning and defense. If he can hit .250 in the Majors that will be enough (to play regularly).
He's not hitting .250 but he's also not playing regularly. If he played regularly, maybe he would hit .250, but right now he's been a spark on the bench and in the clubhouse and given the fans reason to get excited whenever he makes an appearance. You can't put a price on that.
The first telling sign about Kawasaki came from a comment from Omigawa, mysteriously the only comment ever left here by that person ever but it set the stage, perhaps:
He’s a gritty guy, a moodmaker, he’s fast, he has great range on defense, not a fantastic arm though, and he can steal bases. He wouldn’t cost a lot and the Mariners are the only team he wants to go.
Indeed, he is a "moodmaker" and that mood is Goooood.
Two weeks later, we are reminded of this player and that the light-hitting shortstop that trains with and loves Ichiro like James Franco loves Japanese body pillows is now in Seattle.
As Jeff points out, the low-risk contract is inevitable but we don't know yet how good or bad he really is:
If he's good enough, he will continue to play with Ichiro. If he's not, or if the organization wants to see how he does in Tacoma first, he will play with Carlos Peguero, who has met Ichiro before.
But at least now we know what he looks like and he looks like how you should have imagined him to look:
Like a baller.
zzufan points out:
if signing him means even one less brendan ryan post game interview
then i’m 100% against it.
Point well-taken at the time but good lord we had no idea what Kawasaki was actually going to bring to the table in terms of excitement and personality. The last time that I can remember thinking that a player loved the game as much as a fan did, it was Ryan. And now we have at least two of them.
January 5th, 2012 - "I'm Pretty Sure Munenori Kawasaki Has Signed with the Mariners"
Jeff gets an email overnight containing information that Kawasaki is indeed going to Spring Training with the Mariners. While he was dreaming, dreams were happening all the way over in Japan. Unless he was having a nightmare, in which case... well, dreams were still happening in Japan.
At this point, we still don't have any new information about Kawasaki the player because of course we don't and that's why Seattle is bringing him in for basically nothing other than a Spring Training roster spot which could probably be auctioned on eBay for charity.
January 9th, 2012 - "Assorted"
The first Kawasaki gif, of him working out with Ichiro in Japan, is inconspicuously in the same post as "Ken Cloude's birthday" and Carlos Peguero. Oh, he is so much better than Cloude and Peguero!
Credit to Lazy_Pochtron... we have words from Kawasaki and they are magical:
Announver : Ichiro, who is entering his 12th season in the Major League traines with Kawasaki, who is said to share the same values as him. For his first batting practice of the year, he hit 11 HR out of the 72 swings he took.
Kawasaki received an invitation to spring training in Arizona with the Mariners. From there, he will try to take a spot on the Major league team.
Kawasaki: I really want to play on the same team as Ichiro. As for myself, I want to become better at baseball and also to enjoy it more. We only live once and therefore I want to answer to this challenge the best I can
Announcer : The place of memories : the practice session took place in Kobe and alongside Ichiro is Kawasaki who he considers as his little brother. It’s the 7th time they train together. Even if last year the consecutive 200 hits came to a stop, the timing and the control of his bat is still very good, even at age 38. Trying to catch up to Ichiro is Kawasaki who for his first experience in the Majors chose to sign a provisional contract with the mariners.
Kawasaki: Yeah, I signed a provisional contract with the Mariners. They told me to come to camp and from their to compete for a job. I WILL FOR SURE be on the same team as Ichiro. I WILL DO IT!
Announcer : This is how Ichiro thinks of his Kouhai (junior) who decided to follow his steps in the Majors : Even the idiots can see his honnesty . He is the ultimate weapon
January 11th, 2012 - So Munenori Kawasaki is Finally Official Now
By now, the "Kawasaki is Ichiro's stalker" meme is hot and heavy. It has been since the beginning. Just FYI!
January 26th, 2012 - (Fanpost) Munenori Kawasaki Predictions!!!
Note the three exclamation points. This was Kawasaki's biggest fan, clearly. We chided the fan. We mocked the fan. Now who's laughing? Now who's laughing?
First thought is that you've used three too many exclamation marks in a title for a post about Munenori Kawasaki
Now we know that there were not enough exclamation points for a post about Kawasaki.
Major league players are barely Kawasaki.
And 2 recs for OlSalty:
I admit that I remember this post and seriously considered making a similar comment but then I probably felt like eating a Hot Pocket instead. How could we know? HOW COULD WE KNOW?! Our deepest apologies marina-zu.
February 19th, 2012 - [Japanese] Munenori Kawasaki: "I'm Enjoy Myself!"
A video fanshot where Kawasaki explains how he is taking care of himself in his new country.
February 23rd, 2012 - "There is Baseball Tomorrow"
And Munenori Kawasaki is playing it! For Seattle! In Spring Training! This is when it begins...
Through slapping singles in Spring Training to his sparse but memorable appearances throughout the season, the love of Kawasaki has grown from "We don't know what you are but if you play good defense you can have a spot, I guess" to "Holy shit, you're the best. Your value to a team and to Earth cannot be quantified with mere numbers. There is no sabermetric stat for adorable-ness."
When I see pictures, GIFs and read the stories of Kawasaki (because I can not watch many games, sadly) I get the same sort of feelings that I got when I first watched a movie like Little Big League or Rookie of the Year. As children, we see Henry Rowengartner go from regular kid to major league pitcher and it made us laugh, smile, and think "WOW! WHAT WOULD THAT BE LIKE IT WOULD BE SO COOL, DUDE!"
And now as an adult I see Kawasaki and I get those same feelings. He reminds me of childhood. He reminds me of innocence. He reminds me of what it was like to love baseball simply because you loved baseball. Because it was about spending time with your friends and that's all he wants to do: spend time with his friends.
That's why Kawasaki was willing to come to Seattle (and only Seattle) because he wanted to be with his friend. He wanted to play baseball. He wants to get better and he wants to win, but more than anything he wants to have fun and just be with his friends. During an era where baseball has become more of a numbers game than anything else, Kawasaki reminds us what it was like to simply enjoy the moments we have and the moments that we can share together.
That's why I appreciate him, that's why I really like this guy, and while Felix Hernandez is ours and you can't have him, Munenori Kawasaki is ours and that's the only way he'd have it.
Thanks for that Munenori. We like you too.