Of course I know baseball is a game—not just a game, and not more than. I try to understand it without trying to predict it, but like a lot of fans I draw connections and conclusions. I’ve even caught myself thinking that a few of the long seasons that I’ve known during my life as a fan kind of resemble a few of the seasons of small successes and slogs that have defined my extra-baseball life.
The first time I remember thinking a baseball season paralleled the events of my day-to-day life was back in 1980. Opening Day arrived just a few weeks after Mom and Dad announced over corned beef and cabbage that their marriage had died. My favorite team, the White Sox, only fed my adolescent glum as that summer unraveled, finishing twenty under 500 and twenty-six out of first. The Internet tells me they led the AL West for much of April and May but I don’t remember that. Maybe I was too wrapped up in my own Little League games to notice? Doubtful. There’s not much I remember about 1980 beyond that St. Patrick’s Day dinner.
Thankfully, in baseball and life, the results aren’t always so seamlessly sad. Take last year. The 2013 White Sox knocked my hopes to the ground early and never let them back up; fifth place, 99 losses, out of contention for the entire season. But my life away from watching the South Siders was pretty good: new job, new friends, domestic bliss, and a surgically repaired sinus passage that allowed unencumbered nasal respiration for the first time in years. Trust me, breathing normally will improve your quality of life and provide some perspective where baseball is concerned. Besides, looking back on all the baseball seasons of my life, a fifth place season wasn’t far removed from most of the seasons the Sox have authored since I was a toddler. It’s safe to say my life has given me more winning seasons than my White Sox have. And it’s precisely that imbalance that has taught me—as all Sox fans must be taught—that it’s not the destination that determines a journey’s worth. In the 42 years since I first rocked a Sox cap, the club has finished in first place just six times, fifth place or worse a whopping thirteen. Their average finish over that span has been third place. Fortunately, I can count on Mordecai Brown’s right hand the number of years in my personal life that I’d characterize as awful.
For fans, the ideal scenario occurs when a great baseball season plays out during a year peppered with personal good fortune. Doubtless, there are fans of certain teams who count these symmetrical successes on fistfuls of fingers, accumulating them like the championship rings their heroes collect. In my case, I can think of just two. The season of 1995 was special for many reasons, but I’m saving that story for its 20th Anniversary. Ten years later the 2005 baseball season came along and my life became a months-long magic carpet ride.
I married and moved to Portland, Maine in 2000, and I spent the following five years trying to transition from bartender to something else. I tried sales, sign-making, and nonprofit development. I wasn’t miserable, but I wanted more and I couldn’t stop thinking about the English degree I’d almost earned. When I dropped out of school after two years and fell into a fifteen-year bartending career, my degree path dead-ended. I’d been a part-time student off-and-on during my years behind bars, exclusively enrolling in courses that interested me. I accumulated nearly 160 credit hours without a degree to show for it. That never bothered me back then. But marriage and moving and aging changed that. I told my wife one winter day in early 2005 that I wanted to finish, that I needed to finish. I wanted completion and I wanted my life to be about reading and writing and education. To her credit and my surprise she told me to quit my job and make it happen.
Some of the greatest things in life are the little surprises. The things that aren’t on your radar whatsoever, yet come completely out of nowhere and sweep you off your feet.
For many fans, one of those pleasant surprises in 2013 was none other than Munenori Kawasaki.
In many ways, Kawasaki was a welcome distraction for what was otherwise a forgettable Toronto Blue Jays season. And because of that, I don’t know if Kawasaki’s folklore would have flourished as much as it did with the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays.
It really was a special set of circumstances that brought Munenori Kawasaki up to the Toronto Blue Jays in the first place. Had it not been for a freak injury to Jose Reyes in early April, Kawasaki probably wouldn’t have even been on the roster.
And had the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays performed as well as everyone predicted they would, Kawasaki likely would have been swallowed up amongst every other big league player on the team anyway.
But opportunities have a funny way of presenting themselves. What initially appeared to be a dire situation for the Blue Jays actually turned out to be an incredible chance for Munenori Kawasaki, and subsequently a great overall baseball story.
While expectations were incredibly low for a completely dilapidated Blue Jays squad, Munenori Kawasaki was out there every day, clearly having the time of his life.