Saunders & Kawasaki Relive Olympic Memories
With the 2012 London Olympics underway, we can’t help but notice that baseball is missing from the games for the first time since debuting as an exhibition sport in the 1984 Los Angeles games. Baseball was cut from the Olympic program following the 2008 Beijing games when South Korea won the gold medal, Cuba won silver and the United States won bronze.
Current Mariners players Michael Saunders (Canada) and Munenori Kawasaki (Japan) were both participants in the 2008 Olympics, while Hisashi Iwakuma (Japan) played in the 2004 Athens Olympics.
For Saunders, the experience in 2008 was one that he’ll never forget. As a 21-year-old he had the chance to walk in the Opening Ceremonies, take in the Olympic spectacle and feel the pride of representing his country.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be able to represent my country in baseball on a number of different levels from the Little League World Series to the Junior National Team, but playing in the Olympics for my country was the highlight,” said Saunders. “There is such pride in competing at that level and wearing your country’s flag on your hat. It is a tough experience to describe with words.”
Saunders had a pretty good tournament, batting .286 (8×28) with 2 home runs and 4 RBI while Team Canada finished tied for 5th with a 2-5 record.
“We played pretty well, but lost some close games against some really great players,” added Saunders. “In the end it was not the wins and losses, but the whole experience that I’ll remember forever. It was an honor to compete on the same stage as the greatest athletes in the world. I have a chest full of souvenirs and memorabilia from Beijing that I brought back with me.”
And Michael got the chance to meet some of those premier athletes when he was in Bejing.
“I got my picture taken with tennis star Rafael Nadal because Spain was housed pretty close to us, and saw a lot of the top USA athletes like LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Michael Phelps and Jennie Finch.”
And he even got the chance to take in another sporting event when not competing on the baseball diamond.
“Each athlete was allowed to pick one sporting event they wanted to attend, and you could list your top three choices,” recalled Saunders. “I put down the 100-meter final in track and field all three times, because I really wanted to see it.”
Not only did Michael get great seats near the finish line, but he saw history as Jamaica’s Usain Bolt set a world record in the event at 9.69 seconds.
“It was an amazing event to see in person. There was so much build-up before Bolt ran, and it was so quick, and it was worth every second to see it in person.”
While baseball will not be played at the London Games, the 2013 World Baseball Classic is just around the corner. Saunders did not get the chance to represent Canada in 2009, but is hopeful to put on the Team Canada uniform again.
“First and foremost my loyalty is to the Seattle Mariners and doing everything I can to help this organization win more baseball games,” said Saunders. “But, if all parties agreed, I would love the opportunity to play in the World Baseball Classic and once again represent my country.”
Kawasaki also played in the 2008 Beijing Olympics with Japan going 4-3 and losing in the bronze medal game to Team USA.
For Kawasaki, the experience in the Olympics was memorable, but was also different since the games were right in the middle of the his season in Japan.
“It was an honor to play for my country in the Olympics, much like playing in the World Baseball Classic,” said Kawasaki.
He did not get the chance to walk in the Opening Ceremonies, but did get a feel for the Olympic experience and got to see many famous athletes like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.