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BASEBALL

So long, Kawasaki: Why a middling infielder meant so much to Blue Jays fans

ROB CARR/GETTY IMAGES

Pro athletes usually become fan favourites for their excellence inside the lines of play – but there are exceptions. Case in point, Munenori Kawasaki. On Thursday, Toronto fans learned that their beloved infielder would be heading to Chicago to play for the Cubs after three seasons with the Jays. How did a career .234 hitter with just one home run and 50 RBI wedge his way into the hearts of Blue Jays’ fans?


It started inauspiciously enough. In March, 2013, Kawasaki signed with a minor-league deal with Toronto after one less-than-stellar season with the Seattle Mariners, and began the season at Triple-A Buffalo. But after starting shortstop Jose Reyes was injured, Kawasaki was called up to the big club and shortly became the first Japanese-born position player to appear with the Jays.

However, that doesn’t explain how a light-hitting utility infielder became a cult hero in Toronto.

It began with a postgame interview after Kawasaki helped propel Toronto to a win in late April.


And with that interview, a sports star was born.

Later that year, Kawasaki helped stretch a winning streak to nine games with his first, and so far, only Major League home run.


Despite not playing much, fans and teammates all seemed to gravitate to his love for the game and sunny disposition. When he was sent back down to the minors later that year, his teammates were quick to express their admiration for Kawasaki.

Kawasaki’s stay in the minors would be short-lived, and after his recall the hits off the field were much more prominent than on it.



Over the next two seasons Kawasaki bounced between Buffalo and Toronto but became a soundbite machine, discussing his World Cup predictions or how he was dealing with cramping issues.

Despite not playing a very large part in the Jays first postseason appearance in 22 years, his postgame interviews became must-see TV.



Upon learning that his time in Toronto was over, fans quickly jumped on social media to express their appreciation.


Even Mayor John Tory chimed in.


It seems Kawasaki shared the city’s love for him. Here are his parting words to the fans.



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