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Kawasaki steps out of the shadows to will Japan to victory

by Kaz Nagatsuka

While Samurai Japan has discreet, silent players that lead the squad with their bats instead of their mouths, like Ichiro Suzuki or Michihiro Ogasawara, the contribution of less-heralded players is appreciated too.

Baby-faced infielder Munenori Kawasaki is one, and he has given Team Japan energy and courage even when the team is feeling fear or nerves before and during games.

Kawasaki has been very vocal and doesn’t hesitate to talk loudly on and off the field, adding some spice to the squad.

The 27-year-old finally got his chance in the starting lineup for Japan at this year’s World Baseball Classic on Sunday. He was the third baseman, batting ninth, in the semifinal against the United States at Dodger Stadium.

“The members of the United States are gorgeous, but we don’t want to lose to them mentally before we actually play. That’s what I told myself,” Kawasaki said after the 9-4 win.

Kawasaki was the starting shortstop for Japan as he helped the team grab the inaugural WBC title in 2006. But three years later, he has given up the spot to Hiroyuki Nakajima of the Seibu Lions.

But Kawasaki wasn’t dejected. Rather, he kept being himself, cheering up teammates and running around the field vigorously, which presumably was why Japan manager Tatsunori Hara picked him rather than men such as switch-hitter Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who plays the same position as Kawasaki.

During innings, or when a new pitcher took the mound and warmed up, Kawasaki popped off the bench to play catch with one of the outfielders to keep his arm warm.

It would be difficult to get himself into the game after a series of games that he was just put in reserve.

It was not, however, that big of a problem for Kawasaki because he simple had tried to get himself ready all the time, mentally and physically.

“I was on the bench and was still playing in the game,” Kawasaki said after beating Team USA.

And Kawasaki played a key part in the win as well. He went 2-for-4 scoring two runs with an RBI. He got on base three times and had a stolen base, too.

“It was just luck,” he humbly said of his fourth-inning RBI hit. “I don’t think of anything at the plate.”