Home MLB'Weekly' Hit Ground Ball Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Kawasaki power

Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Kawasaki power

by Matt Smith

Munenori Kawasaki’s surname may be on plenty of bright green superbikes, but his name is unlikely to feature prominently in any baseball history books.

In fact, the current Toronto Blue Jays player may not even have his name on a Major League roster in a few weeks time when Jose Reyes returns from the Disabled List and regains his starting spot at shortstop.

However, whilst we all love watching the bright stars of the game doing things that leave us speechless in admiration, it’s sometimes players like Kawasaki that can make watching a ballgame so much fun.

Rajai Davis got the walk-off, game-winning hit for the Blue Jays against the Orioles on Friday night – securing the team’s ninth win in a row – but it was Kawasaki’s game-tying home run in the seventh inning that gained pride of place in the highlight reel.

The Japanese infielder came over to the States last year as a 31-year-old after a ten-year career in the Nippon Professional Baseball league. Whilst he showed some good fielding skills at the demanding shortstop position with the Seattle Mariners, he managed only one extra base hit in his 61 games with the club and was released at the end of the season.

Kawasaki signed a Minor League contract with the Blue Jays over the offseason and figured to only find time with the Big League club as a defensive option if temporary cover was needed in the infield. He might have expected to be with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons – playing alongside ex-Great Britain catcher Mike Nickeas – for quite a while, yet opportunity knocked after he had played only two games.

Jose Reyes was the most exciting addition among all of the players acquired by the Blue Jays over the offseason. Seeing him suffer an ankle injury on 12 April, just ten games into the season, was a sickener for Blue Jays fans and came to typify a deflating start to the season that had been preceded by so much optimism.

As the losses piled up and the days spent at the bottom of the AL East continued to mount, so those turning up at the Rogers Centre searched for any crumb of comfort they could find to put a smile on their faces. Kawasaki soon won them over with his personality; his shortcomings were accepted and every hit, good fielding play or stolen base provided a reason to cheer.

The fans were cheering when he stepped into the batter’s box in the seventh inning on Friday, more in hope than in expectation. The Blue Jays trailed 6-4 with two outs and a runner on first base and they were running out of time to keep their winning streak going.

There’s always a rush of anticipation and excitement when a ball flies off the bat, heading high into the sky and potentially over the fence for a home run. In this case, it was almost a collective gasp, 35,000+ people thinking ‘he couldn’t have, could he?’ all at the same time.

Kawasaki’s 2-for-4 night still left him hitting only .229 over his 57 games (with a mere .333 slugging percentage) and even fans holding up signs bearing his name will be keen for Reyes to be back on the diamond as soon as possible in his place.

However, in ten years time, something will spark one of those 35,000 fans to dig back into the memory banks, turn to a friend or loved one and say ‘hey, do you remember when …’.

Those are the moments that make watching any sport so much fun, whether it’s an all-time great making history or a bit-part player having an unlikely brush with glory.

Injured All-Stars

My daily ritual of logging onto MLB.com over breakfast is currently being spoiled slightly by the nagging fear that the News headlines will show that yet another player on one of my fantasy teams has suffered an injury.

There are plenty of players on the Disabled List right now and with the All-Star voting now in full swing, I tried to put together DL All-Star teams for both leagues. I couldn’t quite manage it as I found only one All-Star outfielder in the AL (Curtis Granderson) and no All-Star catcher in the NL. That still left plenty of All-Stars to include though.

American League

C. Alex Avila, 1B. Mark Teixeira, 2B. Brian Roberts, 3B. Alex Rodriguez, SS. Jose Reyes (or Derek Jeter), OF. Curtis Granderson (Austin Jackson and Franklin Gutierrez would be the non-All-Stars to make up the team). SP. David Price, Jake Peavy, Clay Buchholz, Matt Harrison, Michael Pineda. CL. Neftali Feliz.

National League

C. (Wilson Ramos as the non-All-Star), 1B. Corey Hart, 2B. Aaron Hill, 3B. Pablo Sandoval, SS. Troy Tulowitzki, OF. Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Bryce Harper. SP. Chris Carpenter, Roy Halladay, Chad Billingsley, Ryan Vogelsong, Johan Santana. CL. J.J. Putz.

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