“Fun is the one thing that money can’t buy, something inside, that was always denied, for so many years.” – The Beatles
When I look back at my period of fandom between the ages of 0 and 14, before I become the obsessive fan I am today, I feel like one of my favorite players was always Brian Turang. Turns out, he only played on the team for 2 seasons and a total of 78 games. But I loved that his at bat music was He’s So Fine by the Chiffons and that a 1994 issue of Mariner Magazine describes him as an “avid surfer.” Despite his brief stay in Seattle, many old Mariner fans fondly remember Brian and his at bat music.
He didn’t make a mark with his performance on the field (his career batting average is an even .222 and his Wikipedia page is a single sentence). But fans who remember him always react with surprise and delight when he’s brought up. Brian Turang is a fun player to remember.
Last night when Munenori Kawasaki came into the game, I was thinking about how much fun it will be to look back on his time in Seattle.
Only one word can possibly describe Kawasaki and that word is delightful. He flaps his hands, he does push ups when he’s on base, and the dude never stops talking, mostly to himself it would appear. He’s the most Japaniesiest person I can imagine (I have a Japanese friend so I can say that. Hi, Deena!) all wrapped up in one adorably delightful package. He is so delightful I don’t care what he does as a baseball player as long as I get to watch him play.
Kawasaki reminds me of the things that get lost in professional baseball, namely the chaotic joy and excitement of playing a game.
I like to think of the game as being real, gritty, nostalgic baseball, like I remember my brother’s Little League games. It’s played on uneven fields in stained and patched uniforms by players who live and die with every at bat. Every hitter is chased from the batter’s box by a cloud of dust, churned up by determined cleats and a steady stream of chants and cheers as background noise.
In Major League Baseball everything is so aesthetic-al from the obsessively curated playing surfaces to the perfectly honed player mechanics. There’s just smooth infield dirt, the perfect mix of soil and sand and water. Expertly manicured outfield grass for easily catching perfectly read fly balls. Surgically exact chalk lines enclose the batter’s box around the precise swings of professional players. Even bad swings and throws put arrogant Major League skill on display.
Of course, that isn’t a bad thing at all. We want to see polish and refined skill. It’s just that sometimes the exactness of professional baseball takes away the joy.
Munenori Kawasaki is to Phoebe running through Central Park on Friends, as Albert Pujols is to Usain Bolt. Not as good, but ridiculously more fun.
We won’t forget the polish or love it any less, but it’s the fun that we’ll remember in 20 years with surprise and delight.