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The Globe and Mail

Blue Jays say Arigato to Japanese shortstop for bringing fun to ballpark

Toronto Blue Jays' Munenori Kawaski tosses his bat as he grounds out against the Minnesota Twins in an exhibition spring training baseball game in Fort Myers, Fla., Sunday, March 24, 2013.

Elise Amendola/AP

Munenori Kawasaki is no Jose Reyes but he has helped bring smiles back to the Toronto Blue Jays' clubhouse.

The 31-year-old shortstop from Japan has also brought a decent glove and a whole lot of quirk with him from triple-A Buffalo.

Kawasaki, who is filling in for the injured Reyes, is already winning TV time for his many bows in the Toronto dugout and theatrical stretches outside it.

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And his new teammates love him.

"When you lose a guy with such energy as Jose, you don't ever expect to get that type of energy back but this guy, he's got something," said knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey. "You can't quite put your finger on it but you enjoy being around him.

"And he certainly brings levity to the team that we need."

Manager John Gibbons is happy to have Kawasaki at shortstop. The return of Brett Lawrie at third has also bolstered a Toronto infield that had experienced some wobbly moments to start the season.

"They're two really good defenders," Gibbons said prior to Friday night's game against the visiting New York Yankees. "And Kawasaki's done a great job for us.

"He's one of those guys out there, you know when the ball's hit he's probably going to make the play."

Kawasaki has also had some timely hits in his 14 at-bats prior to Friday, driving in two runs and scoring three himself in six games.

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"He battles you. He gives you a good at-bat every time he's up there ... And when you need some contact, to put the ball in play, he does that," said Gibbons.

Kawasaki and Lawrie, a made-in-Canada bundle of energy from Langley, B.C., have also helped liven up the dugout.

"There's some action going on. It's not a dead atmosphere, that's for sure," Gibbons said dryly.

The Toronto manager says he did not know Kawasaki was such a character. But he acknowledged the Japanese infielder has helped take some of the edge off the team's poor start (7-9 going into Friday's play).

"Guys have fun with him, they mess with him," he said. "Let's face it, we were kind of sputtering along as a team.

"He just keeps things positive and gives you a lot of energy."

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Gibbons is more than happy with what he gets on the field as well.

"I like everything he's doing ... He's been tremendous," said Gibbons, who also knows other teams will try to hold Toronto over a barrel if they go looking for outside help during Reyes' expected three-month absence with a high ankle strain.

"Everybody knows when Reyes goes down, they got you — every team in baseball's got you where they want you," he added. "If you want really one of our guys so bad, you'll probably have to overpay. And that's why Kawasaki has been big."

Kawasaki played 61 games for Seattle last season, hitting .192. Prior to that, he spent 11 seasons with Fukuoka in Japan where he was a career .294 hitter.

"Here's his opportunity and he's making the most out of it," said Gibbons. "That's what you've got to do."

Kawasaki's English is limited but Dickey says the players manage to communicate.

"He knows enough basic English to get by, I think," said Dickey. "And I think he probably understands a lot more than he can speak.

"And we're all good with our hand gestures, so we can get by. But he's fun. He's a fun teammate. I've enjoyed being around him."

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