How Munenori Kawasaki’s ‘I am Japanese’ video inspired Jays hopeful Gosuke Katoh
The 27-year-old utility infielder, who signed to a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training, introduced himself on Twitter with a personalized version of ex-Jay Munenori Kawasaki’s “I am Japanese” clip from 2013 — the unpredictable post-game interview with Sportsnet’s Arash Madani that launched a local legend.
Katoh edited in his own face, name and hometown (San Diego), but left the same shout-out to their mutual heritage and added the caption: “Quick clip from my press conference this morning at the Rogers Centre. (Haters will say it’s photoshopped).”
While meant for a laugh, Katoh added that Kawasaki’s interview reminded him of his six-year-old self, who spoke no English after emigrating from Japan to the United States. He said learning a new language was “really hard,” and that Kawasaki earned wide respect by speaking openly about improving his English during two-plus years with the Jays.
“It takes a lot of courage for him to speak in front of tens of thousands of people, and then it ended up being a viral moment,” said Katoh, who also admired baseball great Ichiro Suzuki growing up. “That video’s been in the back of my mind, cemented back there, for a while.”
The Katoh version received thousands of likes. He hopes it’s the start of a long connection after bouncing around the minor leagues since electing free agency in 2019. He had spent 6 1/2 years in the New York Yankees organization, then worked at the Miami Marlins alternate training site in 2020. Last year, he played for the San Diego Padres’ Triple-A affiliate, the El Paso Chihuahuas, and put up some of his best numbers: .306 batting average, .388 on-base and .474 slugging.
Each stop was different, he said, and taught him the importance of adapting quickly to have a shot at roster selection time. His versatility with the glove — experience at first, second and third base, plus the outfield — and lefty bat could make him a fit off the bench for the Jays.
Joe Sclafani, the Jays’ assistant director of player development, called Katoh — drafted 66th by the Yankees in 2013 — “a really complete player who fits us well” with strong contact skills and plate discipline.
He has quickly endeared himself off the field, too. This past week, Katoh shared a post on the Jays thread on Reddit, titled “Women’s History Month: Why I’m proud to be a Toronto Blue Jay.” He wrote that while he has seen a slow change in attitudes toward women in baseball over his eight-year career, inclusion has too often been met with hostility and female staff have been treated with disrespect. Much to his delight, Katoh added, the Jays are different.
“The first thing I noticed when I walked into the spring training facility in Dunedin, FL for the first time was the multitude of women that the Blue Jays employed,” Katoh wrote. “Not only did the Blue Jays employ lots of women, but these women also held positions of power. Their job titles ranged from hitting coach to strength coach, and biomedical engineer — all positions historically held by men in the MLB.”
The post was picked up by The Players’ Tribune Japan this past Tuesday, International Women’s Day.
Whether Katoh is picked for the major-league roster remains to be seen. For now, with the MLB lockout finally over, Katoh — who took part in Monday’s first full squad day at minor-league camp in Dunedin, one of the early arrivals — is grateful for the chance while many of his friends are still looking for work.
Katoh also garnered attention on social media for wearing tighter pants than his teammates in Florida, with one fan comparing him to Robbie Ray, who won last year’s Cy Young Award with the Jays while sporting a similar look.
“I knew it was a thing. Robbie Ray’s pants are pretty famous, I think, in all social media,” Katoh told MLB.com’s Keegan Matheson. “There was one day when (outfielder) Mallex Smith said, ‘I want the tightest shirt you can get me.’ He wore like a medium out to the field. I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to copy you. I’m going to try to get the tightest pants.’ I knew Robbie had those tight pants last year and I wanted to wear them, so that’s kind of how it came to be.”
Katoh has seen the Jays’ system at work from a distance as an opponent over the years, and recalled that he once joked with Hunter Mense, now the Jays’ minor-league hitting co-ordinator, that he had the easiest job in the world when he worked with Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio at the Double-A level.
With so much major-league talent, Katoh admits the Jays appear to be a “finished product.”
“I’m just riding their coattails,” he said, “but if I could be any help to them in the quest for a World Series ring, that would be absolutely awesome.”