I have to say, one of the things in spring training that made me the happiest was seeing that Munenori Kawasaki had received a non-roster invite. There are guys on every team who provide an emotional spark, an instant lightening of mood. Last year, for the Chicago Cubs, that guy was Jonathan Herrera, with his hat rubbing – followed by hats with hands permanently rubbing, glued to their tops. He brought smiles. He came in during some dicy situations, played well, and at the same time managed to break the ice that can freeze a team in a tense moment. A wise young baseball player named Bryce Harper once said, “Isn’t baseball supposed to be fun?”
The thing is, I had no real expectation that Kawasaki would do anything but hang out in Iowa as a just-in-case backup. I thought we might see him later in the spring, or by summer. Apparently Muni has other ideas.
Kawasaki has seen a good bit of play in the spring training games, and he’s absolutely killing it. He has slashed .389/.522/.500 with an out-of-the-ballpark OPS of 1.022. Seriously? In ten games he is 7-for-18. Sure, it’s spring training, but nobody else is doing that. Still, it was a longshot – until Tommy La Stella strained a calf back on the 7th of March. We haven’t seen La Stella since, and the only reports on his return are more question marks. According to Joe Maddon there “is no timetable” for his return.
This might have opened just the door that Kawasaki needed. He’s clearly putting everything he has behind his appearances, getting on base at a remarkable rate, and playing very solid defense. At 34 years of age, there may not be a lot of shots at making a starting squad left for him, and this one is likely to be magic. Pretty clearly players from all over have been maneuvering to make the 2016 Cubs roster in the hope of being part of the legend when, and if, they bring home that World Series championship.
If they do, I hope it’s coupled with a lot of dancing, joking, and smiles from Kawasaki, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and all the other young clowns the team has to offer. The way they interact, the atmosphere that Maddon has created – that’s magic. Maybe Joe will be pulling a Kawasaki out his hat this year. If he does, I’ll be first in line for a signed jersey.