Infielder, who became a fan favorite in Toronto, headed to Triple-A Buffalo
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Munenori Kawasaki era in Toronto has come to an end -- at least for now -- but not before an emotional send off in the Blue Jays' clubhouse on Tuesday night.
Kawasaki was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo after a 5-1 loss to the Rays in order to make room for Jose Reyes. On the surface, it's another routine transaction, but for those inside the clubhouse, it seemed like anything but.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons called a meeting after the game to inform his team of the club's decision. It's a rare move, but one that seemed rather fitting for a player who was embraced by the fans and players more than anyone could have ever anticipated.
"This is the part of the game that sucks," Blue Jays starter Mark Buehrle said. "Between the fans and the guys in here, I think everybody has fallen in love with this guy. He came up and did everything everybody asked him to do and probably more.
"I love the guy, he's a great guy ... I don't think I've ever seen, I don't want to say a team meeting, but Gibby called everybody in here to just let them know he was going to get sent down. I've never seen that, usually it's you come in the next day, look at the guy's locker and you're like, 'Oh, that guy got sent down and this guy's coming up.'"
When the Blue Jays promoted Kawasaki from Buffalo in mid-April, he was considered a short-term fix for Reyes, who was out after he severely sprained his left ankle. General manager Alex Anthopoulos made no secret of his desire to search outside the organization for additional help, but in the coming days, that stance would change.
Kawasaki won over the fans and the organization with his play on the field. The stats were far from spectacular -- he hit just .225 with nine extra-base hits in 60 games -- but his quirky demeanor and upbeat personality made him stand out.
There were also a few moments of greatness that will be remembered for quite some time. He hit a walk-off double to beat the Orioles in late May, and earlier this month, he made waves against Baltimore again with a shocking two-run homer -- the first home run of his career -- in the seventh inning to help lead the Blue Jays to victory.
"These are the best fans and the best teammates for two months, it's been an incredible experience for me," Kawasaki said through an interpreter. "I appreciate everybody, from the fans and the players, who helped me through these two months.
"I can't believe it, I absolutely can't believe the way I've been accepted by the players here and by the fans. This one strange Japanese guy -- to come here and be accepted the way they have has been an unbelievable experience."
Even though Kawasaki's run in Toronto was a feel-good story, it became rather obvious in recent weeks that he would be the odd-man out once Reyes was deemed ready to go. The club did have an option of returning to a seven-man bullpen, but instead sent Kawasaki to Buffalo.
The 32-year-old had options to return to Japan during the offseason but decided to sign a Minor League deal with the Blue Jays. There are still no regrets about that move, especially after a run in which he received countless standing ovations at Rogers Centre and was often greeted during plate appearances with chants of "Ka-wa-saki."
Kawasaki's time with the Blue Jays lasted just over two months, but it's not necessarily the end of the line. He'll report to the Bisons and could find his way back on the team at any point if someone goes down due to injury. Social media in Canada erupted -- some in outage, some in appreciation -- when news of Kawasaki's demotion came out, but he couldn't help but smile when informed of some the reactions.
"It's not as if I've died," said Kawasaki, who posted a .337 on-base percentage. "I'm still a baseball player, it's just that tomorrow I'll be playing on a different field, but I'm still around and I'm still here to help the team when they need it. It has been a terrific experience and I really appreciate everybody and love everybody."