I was nervous that this YouTube clip of a post-game interview with shortstop Munenori Kawasaki would be just an opportunity to make fun of the onetime Japanese baseball star, but I didn’t need to worry. His likable enthusiasm came through in spite of his struggles with English, and his team’s appreciation for the player came through loud and clear when one player stepped aside to allow him to be interviewed, and two others doused him as if they’d just won the World Series.
It wasn’t the championship: Kawasaki had just helped his Toronto Blue Jays win a game in the 9th inning against the Baltimore Orioles by hitting a walk-off double. Although (or maybe because) he had started the season in the Blue Jays’ minor league club (he had been released after one season with the Seattle Mariners).
I hope his Major League career continues to be as bright and happy as this day.
If you’re a baseball fan, you might want to find a copy of “Baseball Is Just Baseball: The Understated Ichiro,” a compilation of the often cryptic but also often wise (if you’re looking for sagacity on the baseball diamond) quotes that Ichiro Suzuki, the former Seattle Mariners outfielder now playing for the New York Yankees.
The quotes include this typically understated description of an amazing play: “It was a fly ball; I caught it.”
Or his advice to grade-school kids: “Find something you like to do as soon as possible.”
Like Kawasaki’s post-game interview, there was a chance this slim book would be an opportunity to make fun of someone for whom English is not a native language. But sports writer David Shield used quotes that don’t disrespect Ichiro, and and put them into context with introductory text that simply states what Ichiro is responding to.
Japanese ballplayers are still a somewhat recent phenom in Major League Baseball, with only 43 over decades. The first was Masanori Murakami, who was signed to the San Francisco Giants in 1964, but the team lost him over a contract dispute with Murakami’s Japanese team. The second, and the spark for the current batch of Japanese MLB players, was pitcher Hideo Nomo, who signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1995.
No doubt, as more Japanese players come to the US, they’ll become more adept at playing the US media game, and their interviews won’t be such cause celebres over time.
By the way, if you’re a fan of baseball and a fan of all things Japanese, you’ll want to keep up with my friend Daigo Fujiwara’s excellent blog, JapaneseBallPlayers.com, which he publishes in both English and Japanese (where devout fans follow their heroes’ U.S. careers)