Before the baseball season started, Blue Jays fans knew they would fall in love with their starting shortstop. Little did everyone realize, that shortstop would be Munenori Kawasaki.
When Jose Reyes got injured in the 10th game of the season in Kansas City, fans saw tears roll down his face. We felt like something was being taken from us. The most electrifying shortstop the Jays have ever had was now headed to the disabled list. Great. Fantastic start to a World Series season. Fans frowned in unison.
Then, his replacement arrived and turned frowns, upside down.
His name is Munenori Kawasaki and he is Japanese.
There was no red carpet welcome (though in hindsight, there should have been). There was not a sold out Rogers Centre to see his debut. He had a swing like Ichiro, but not much else. Then, we got to know him. We got to love him. In the two months that Kawasaki was with the Blue Jays, he became a fan favourite. An icon. The next mayor of Toronto, if he wished. His love of the game was infectious and is something that is rarely seen among professional athletes.
Fans often scrutinize players based on their performance. If we were to look at just the numbers, there is not much with which to be impressed. However, he did something that many athletes have a hard time doing in Toronto – connecting with the fans. Whether it was attempting to sing the Canadian national anthem, giving hilarious post-game interviews, bowing to his teammates, or his extensive pre-game stretching regiment, fans loved the guy. I have never heard a Blue Jays crowd cheer so loudly for a second deck, foul ball, than when Kawasaki came about three seats away from his second career home run. I wish I had been there.
Some fans might look at this move and wonder why the Jays didn’t send down one of their 8 relievers. Why did we have to demote a fan favourite?
Well, Jose Reyes might be the best shortstop in baseball. So, he will play every game. Could they try Kawasaki at second base? Sure. But moving him over to a new position, mid-season, when you have three other guys – who have played the position before and contribute about the same with the bat – might not be the wisest move to make. If they sent down a reliever, it would either be Perez or McGowan and I don’t think either one would have made it through waivers. At this point, I wouldn’t want to lose either pitcher. So, Kawasaki was sent down to Buffalo because he has options left….oh the joys of the business side of sports.
Everyone will miss Kawasaki, but baseball is a funny sport. Someone might get injured tomorrow and he might be right back with the Blue Jays, bowing to his teammates after every out.
On that note, welcome back Jose Reyes! We missed you…but not as much as we thought we would, thanks to Munenori Kawasaki.