Kawasaki Quickly Wins Over Mariners Teammates
SEATTLE—Munenori Kawasaki was not the typical minor league invitee to a big league camp.
The eight-time all-star shortstop in Japan came to spring training with a minor league contract and major league dreams.
Kawasaki, a 5-foot-10, 165-pounder with excellent defensive and baserunning skills, showed himself to be adept at second and third base in addition to shortstop. He hit .455/.489/.523 this spring and made the roster as the backup infielder.
He didn't play in the two games in Tokyo to open the season against Oakland, but otherwise, this spring has been a winner for him.
"I'm enjoy(ing) myself right now," Kawasaki said in English, a language he is in a full sprint to master.
"Munenori has been fantastic all spring," Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. "He had to compete to make this ballclub, and he did what he needed to do to be on this ballclub. He earned it; he earned every bit of it."
Kawasaki, 30, has been something of a revelation to the Mariners, who have a long history of Japanese players but none with the outgoing personality of Kawasaki. He's quick to joke, bilingual when possible, and clearly enjoys his job.
He drove in a run with his first big league hit against the Athletics. When he's on the field, it's easy to hear his voice above the general din, clearly delighted with being on the field with his new teammates. A longtime friend of right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, Kawasaki has also been a hit with the rest of his new teammates.
"Whenever I say something crazy in Japanese, they don't even care," Kawasaki said through an interpreter. "They've always welcomed me wholeheartedly. They've given me such a welcoming atmosphere."
Kawasaki was the regular shortstop on two Japan Series-winning teams with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in 2003 and again in 2010. He was also the starting shortstop on Japan's 2008 Olympic team and played for both of his country's World Baseball Classic squads as well.
He owns a .294 lifetime average in Japan and won two Gold Gloves. He stole 262 bases in 1,145 games, getting 20 or more steals in eight of the last nine seasons.
• Lefthander Lucas Luetge, a Rule 5 pickup from the Brewers, made the Opening Day roster and will get a chance to pitch in lefty-vs.-lefty situations. He had a 2.35 ERA and 11 strikeouts in eight Cactus League innings.
• Outfielder Carlos Peguero didn't make Seattle's Opening Day roster, but he was back quickly. The club's top home run producer this spring with five, he will be an option in left field with Mike Carp (shoulder sprain) on the disabled list.