PEORIA, Ariz. -- Munenori Kawasaki was an eight-time All-Star shortstop in Japan and the energetic infielder is excited to return to his homeland for his first action with the Mariners.
Kawasaki is one of three Japanese players in Mariners camp -- along with Ichiro Suzuki and new pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma -- and he learned this week that he will indeed be among the 30 players boarding the charter Thursday for Tokyo.
Kawasaki is a non-roster invitee and hasn't officially made the 25-man roster yet, as those decisions won't come until just prior to the Opening Day game against the A's in Tokyo on March 28. But he's played extremely well this spring and appears to have a spot locked up as a utility infielder.
"I am very happy, from the bottom of my heart," Kawasaki said of being part of the Japan trip. "This was one of my goals, coming here, making the team and going to Japan. This was one goal that I've accomplished and I'm very happy about that."
Kawasaki, who had a single, a walk, an RBI and two runs scored in two plate appearances during Wednesday's 13-8 loss to the White Sox, has played all over the infield this spring, as the Mariners have looked to see if he can handle a utility role. He's proven to be an excellent defender and has surprised the club by hitting .387 in Cactus League play as well.
"It is fun, but there's a lot to do," he said. "I played many positions back in Japan, mainly shortstop, but this is my first Spring Training that I'm playing second, short and third all at once. It's a challenge, but at the same time, I'm having fun."
How versatile is the 30-year-old native of Kagoshima, Japan? He sounded like a member of the marketing department Wednesday when asked about what reception might be in store for Ichiro when the Japanese icon returns to his homeland for the first time with the Mariners.
"I don't know. I couldn't tell you," he said. "But I could tell you this. If I was a fan, I'd be the first one to buy a ticket and be there at the games."
The two regular-season games at the Tokyo Dome are sold out, though tickets remain for exhibitions against the Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants on March 25-26.