Ichiro Suzuki is amazed at how quickly Munenori Kawasaki has been drawn to the bosom of the baseball fans in Toronto.
“I thought he handed out free pizza to the crowd or something,” said the legendary outfielder, future Hall of Famer and now New York Yankee, during the weekend series with the Blue Jays.
His eyes twinkled when he said that.
What Ichiro isn’t surprised about, as he expressed through long-time translator Allen Turner, is how the Toronto shortstop has already adapted to a situation where he is the only Japanese on a team in a city he only arrived in a week ago.
Kawasaki, says Ichiro, would be like he is no matter if it were with “the Maple Leafs, Manchester United or in the jungle.
“I wouldn’t survive three days in the jungle.”
Toronto isn’t the jungle, but it is a place that traditionally falls for a certain type of athlete — hard working, blue collar, technically sound, 100 per cent effort in everything. And Kawasaki fits the bill to a batting T.
So much so, that just three home games into his tenure the fans were chanting “Ka-wa-sa-ki” loud enough for opposing players to peek out of the dugout wondering what was going on. And after hitting ninth upon his arrival, he was moved up to the leadoff spot.
Brought up from triple-A Buffalo on April 13 as a short-term fill-in for a long-term injury to Jose Reyes until something better came along, the former Seattle backup has already pretty much cemented a spot.
At least as a backup when the starter is due back after the July All-Star break.
On Friday night of the Yankee series, the first Kawasaki jersey was seen. He signed it.
A day later, four guys showed up with No. 66 t-shirts, and on Sunday…