by Amy Moritz
With Jose Reyes coming off the disabled list and returning to the Toronto Blue Jays for their game today against Tampa Bay in Florida, someone had to be sent down to Triple-A Buffalo.
And the odd-man out was Munenori Kawasaki.
The 32-year-old in just his second season of professional baseball in North America not only ably held down the shortstop position while Reyes was rehabbing his injured ankle, he became one of the most popular guys in the Blue Jays clubhouse and a fan favorite with an avid cult following.
Even the Toronto reporters waxed poetic about the demotion of Kawasaki after Toronto's 5-1 loss to the Rays on Tuesday night. (Check out stories from John Lott of the National Post and Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.) How important was Kawasaki's personality to the team? So much so that manager John Gibbons announced the move in front of the team with Kawasaki at his side. That's not normal.
But neither is Kawasaki. In a good way.
He started the season with the Bisons but Buffalo barely got a chance to learn to spell his name. He played in just two games with the Herd before getting the call up to Toronto after the injury to Reyes.
With Toronto, he played in 60 games, batted .225 and drove in 17 runs. Last year with Seattle he layed in 61 games. Before that, he was with Fukuoka in Japan.
But more than the stats is Kawasaki's personality. He found a way to immediately become a favorite of the players (and the fans) without speaking much English, but with clearly showing a deep love for the game.
Need an example? Check out this video of him giving a post-game interview after hitting a walk-off, two-run double against Baltimore on May 26. Trust me. You will smile for the rest of the day.