05/10/12 3:48 PM ET
Kawasaki's infectious personality a hit in Seattle
Constant motor makes Japanese infielder a clubhouse favorite
By Josh Liebeskind / MLB.com
Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan laughs as he impersonates teammate Munenori Kawasaki. The Japanese infielder and first-year Major Leaguer might not know much English, but he can accurately describe his personality.
There is certainly no one on the Mariners as energized as Kawasaki. The 30-year-old's motor is always churning, always on at full throttle.
"Well, I've been like this since I was a little kid," Kawasaki said via his interpreter, Antony Suzuki. "I was never still, never calm, I was always moving around. I've been like this for a long time. I'm an adult now, but I'm still the same way as when I was a kid."
Kawasaki's boyish charm doesn't just show, it exudes from him -- in the clubhouse, on the field, during pregame warmups.
Perhaps it's during batting practice that the utility infielder shows his true colors, though.
Kawasaki goes through a similar routine each day, sliding into second and third base. Oh yeah, and first -- going from second to first and sliding in with a popup slide. Suffice to say, it's not a routine any of his teammates have seen before.
"He's always prepared for everything, even if there's a slide at first, he's ready for it," Ryan said. "There's really not much left he hasn't worked on before the game, let's put it that way."
Kawasaki's studious training really does allow him to be ready for any situation. He entered Monday's game against the Tigers as a pinch-runner in the ninth inning of a tie game. With one out, John Jaso hit a shallow fly ball to right. With a run-on-contact play on, Kawasaki instantly broke for home from third.
The wiry infielder was able to get back to third just in time to tag up and beat the throw home, scoring the winning run. His worried manager, Eric Wedge, said he was yelling for him to go back to third, but Kawasaki claims he knew what he was doing. The only problem for him was making it through the postgame celebration.
"I'm OK, but obviously we got a lot of big guys here -- very powerful, and I'm Japanese," he said after the game, creating a ripple of laughter through the media as he contorted his body this way and that. "Wasn't easy, but I'm OK. I play karate, so I try to dodge left and right."
Despite a strong language barrier, Kawasaki's infectious personality has made him a favorite in the clubhouse. It's the things that transcend spoken communication that make Kawasaki so popular.
"You can see somebody's heart," Ryan said. "It's no secret how hard he works. There hasn't been a letup; before this team was set, after he'd made the team, 'til now, it's been the same as Day 1.
"He treats everybody with respect, and everybody respects how hard he goes about his day, and how prepared he is. It's not an easy gig, not knowing when you're going to play and all that stuff. He's handled himself above and beyond what I'm sure the staff expected."
For as much preparation as Kawasaki puts into the game, though, he insists there's much more to life than baseball. For the 5-foot-10, 165-pounder, that means eat (a lot) and sleep.
Oh yeah, and there's the Mune Dance -- a jig Kawasaki made up and named after himself. Want to see it?
"Only after we win," Kawasaki said, quickly lowering his arms from mid-dance, a childish grin spreading across his face.