Tanaka will be remembered for his huge heart

Editor’s Note: This column appeared in Monday’s York Dispatch.

The brief scene unfolded inside the York Revolution’s batting cage almost five months ago in Lakeland, Fla.

Kaz Tanaka, all of 5-foot-5 and 158 pounds, strolled into the Revs’ cage at the TigerTown Complex in the wee morning hours with bat in tow. Then Matt Dryer, forever the jokester, turned and said to no one in particular what was on his mind.

“Look at his little feet,” Dryer said of Tanaka in a moment that seemed more normal than you would think. “Aren’t they cute?”

Laughter erupted. Tanaka smiled. And in that brief sequence, any onlooker would understand the relationship between Tanaka and all of his Revs’ teammates.

It’s one of respect. One of admiration. One of amazement — for a man who traveled 6,724 miles to the United States for the first time in his life knowing almost zero English to play independent baseball.

This wasn’t Dice-K or Ichiro coming to the U.S. for the big bucks and fame. So you have to wonder: Just how many people would take this chance?

That’s why Friday’s news that Tanaka was placed on the inactive list came with a hefty dose of sadness. Sure, Tanaka was no offensive juggernaut. He wasn’t even an every-day player for the Revs, hitting just .226 in 84 at-bats with eight stolen bases this season.

But he was the player who never complained — even when he probably had plenty of reason to. He was also the guy who stayed up late at night in his room trying to learn as much of the English language as he could. And he was the only player I’ve seen in the Atlantic League crash into an outfield wall multiple times trying to track down a fly ball.

For all these things, he’ll have a place in the hearts of all baseball fans in York forever.

“It’s been a very tough season,” said Tanaka, who hinted he might give it one more chance at a tryout in Japan this winter before considering retirement. “(I’ve had a) Good team, good manager, a good coaching staff, good fans. I love it here.”

Tanaka, 26, will travel back to Japan Friday, but until that time comes he’s chosen to finish out his time in York right where he’s been for the last two years — in uniform in the Revolution dugout.

He even spent time signing autographs for fans prior to Sunday’s doubleheader.

And that’s why Tanaka’s teammates and his fans will always remember him as the small warrior with a huge heart.

*John Pavoncello photos.

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7 Responses

  1. Well said- Without a doubt, Kaz is a class act and team player who always gave it his all for the Revs. I wish him nothing but the best.

  2. I will miss seeing him in the outfield and on the basepaths. He was fun to watch and was a great addition to this new team here in York. I wish him well. I know when I talk to friends, years from now, about baseball in York and the early teams, Kaz Tanaka’s name will come up with fond memories.

  3. Tanaka truly was a class act. He always led with a smile and a greeting and was superb with the kids in particular. There remain many in the league who could take a lesson from this gentle man.

  4. Well Said Greg

  5. Kaz was outside the team store before the game on Wednesday signing the sale-priced Kaz shirts. I had a chance to say hello and wish him well…and got that great Kaz smile. He is a gentleman and his English is a lot better! His playinig style and personality were a great asset for the Revs in Year One helping all of us learn about having a professional baseball team in the neighborhood. I’m going to miss seeing him fly around the bases.

  6. It’s a shame he’s gone. He never really got a fair shake this year.

  7. There’s only a few people in life that get that kind of tribute and it’s always the ones who were a class act, Kaz will be missed not only for his playing but for WHO he was…

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