FUKUOKA – Popular infielder Munenori Kawasaki joined the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks on Saturday on a one-year deal believed to be worth ¥90 million (roughly $808,000).
The deal brings the 35-year-old back to his roots. Kawasaki turned pro out of high school, joining NPB’s only team on his home island of Kyushu as the Hawks’ fourth pick in the 1999 amateur draft. He has spent the past five years in big leagues and the minors as a utility man.
“I didn’t foresee coming back,” he told a news conference at Yafuoku Dome. “Even I can’t really understand how it came to be the right timing for me.”
In the United States and Canada, Kawasaki became something of an Internet sensation for his enthusiastic English interviews and impromptu dance routines, and he didn’t disappoint the locals on Saturday.
“I may have aged, but my body is beautiful,” he said.
Kawasaki had returned to the Chicago Cubs this year on a spring training invitation, but after being cut from their major league camp, he was suddenly at a loss. Although Chicago was keen to re-sign him on a minor league deal, Kawasaki abruptly returned to Japan.
Although he only batted .237 in 276 major league games, Kawasaki drew 70 walks, giving him an adequate .320 on-base-percentage. His speed, defensive versatility and positive influence in the clubhouse meant he was always going to be in demand as a fill-in for some big league club, but instead he returned home.
“At that time that I was cut and the most perplexed, the Hawks wanted me the most,” he said. “I wanted to go with the Hawks. It seemed like every year the Hawks were trying to lure me back. And now this feels so strange, almost dreamlike.”
Kawasaki was asked about his time in North America, where he also played for the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays.
“Part of going where the conditions are different, is stress, and that made me stronger,” he said. “I learned so many things.”