Nominated for: infectious, irresistible enthusiasm.
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 2 p.m. on January 1. At 4 p.m. we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
The 2013 Jays season cannot be called anything but a disappointment. After a series of well-regarded off-season moves—including a multi-level trade with the Miami Marlins and the acquisition of Cy Young–winning knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey—the Toronto Blue Jays were regarded by many who make a living predicting these kinds of things as a favourite to win the 2013 World Series. Instead, after a series of injuries and questionable management decisions, the team finished last in the American League East with a record of 74-88: miles away from the playoffs, let alone the championship.
Maybe the malaise surrounding him made Munenori Kawasaki shine a little more brightly than he would have in an impressive season, but the cheer the shortstop brought to the team—in the stands and clubhouse alike—was one of the few bright spots in 2013. Kawasaki, previously with the Seattle Mariners, signed with the Jays in March of this year and was called up to the bigs in April after Jose Reyes’ injury. He didn’t put up impressive numbers: 24 RBIs and a lacklustre batting average of .229 over 96 games. But he played a key role in a few much-needed victories, most notably on May 26, when Kawasaki’s walk-off double won a close game against the Orioles. And Kawasaki’s GIBBY award-winning post-game speech that day—”My name is Munenori Kawasaki, and I am Japanese!”—quickly spread online.
Kawasaki’s propensity for shareable soundbites made him a fan favourite, but it was his role in the clubhouse that made him a key member of the Jays even if he wasn’t hitting it out of the park (literally or figuratively) on the field. Anybody who watched Jays games saw shots of Munie joking with other players in the clubhouse, celebrating hits and runs, and generally bringing a much-needed bit of cheer to a team struggling through a difficult season.
Kawasaki might not be on the Jays’ roster for the 2014 season: the team just signed him to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training, but a spot on the squad is no guarantee. But while fans hope that the Jays won’t need to get through the upcoming season on hope and cheer (again), it’d be nice to know the clubhouse has the benefit of some lightheartedness amid all the pressure. Sometimes it’s not just about a player’s stats, and sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that baseball is supposed to be fun.
This post originally gave Munenori Kawasaki’s batting average as .299—it was, in fact, .229.