Goodbyes are difficult.
If nothing else, this blog is a testament to the emotional toll baseball can take on fandom, from the blow of Melky Cabrera’s suspension to Ichiro’s unexpected departure. I found myself in tears—yes, actual tears—during these moments of transition, trying to retain some measure of propriety and perspective while my heart was wrung by attachments I had made to players and teams alike.
For several weeks now, I’ve put off writing an exceptionally hard farewell to one of the most memorable characters of 2012: Munenori Kawasaki.
The first time I spotted Kawasaki, he was somersaulting on the practice fields of the Peoria Sports Complex. Every other player and coach had exited the field for the day, winded after directing outfield sprints, practicing pickles and rundowns, and taking an extended batting practice.
Still, #61 tumbled around the outfield, hopping from side to side as he faced the left field fence. Unknown outside NPB, Kawasaki had all but offered himself to the Mariners on a silver platter several months earlier, eager to accept a minor league deal if it would bring him closer to a childhood dream of playing alongside Ichiro Suzuki.
His boundless energy and raw joy for the sport was well-chronicled by beat writers and broadcasters, but it was something else to see in person. He treated each batting practice with the intensity of a playoff performance. Between innings, he choreographed his own dance routines in the dugout. He bowed to umpires when taking the field and did push-ups after diving to the bag on pickoff throws. After a win, he was the first to spring from the dugout to congratulate his teammates, always sauntering back to the clubhouse as he waved to departing fans.
Munenori’s time in Seattle came with a one-year cap, made even more pronounced by Ichiro’s move to the Big Apple. A Gold Glove defender and All-Star in Japan, he grasped a .192 average in 61 MLB games, slipping below Brendan Ryan in both offensive and defensive production. Perhaps his most notable contribution was a decisive tag on Suzuki, who tried to nab second base in his third game as a New York Yankee. Far from distraught, Kawasaki let out a cry of delight after robbing his idol.
While the decision to release Munenori made sense on paper, it was difficult to process as a fan. No one loved the 2012 Mariners more than Mune, and no one was more beloved by both teammates and fans. It’s easy to put a price tag on a below-average utility infielder (say, $9M), but the chance to watch him squirm at the plate, bluff a steal, and mount Casper Wells during an emotionally-charged postgame celebration? Priceless.