JAPANESE AMERICAN BASEBALL

PRE WW II
Baseball was introduced to Japan by Horace Wilson in 1872 and quickly grew into a national sport.

As Japanese immigrants arrived in the U.S., they brought their love of the game with them and played, since baseball was an inexpensive form of entertainment following a week of labor in the fields, mines or railroads.  As early as 1908, Denver hosted The Mikado baseball team from Japan. This popular team played locally as well as barnstormed through Kansas and Nebraska.

For  photo, click here: https://www.robfitts.com/isseibaseballphotogallery

WW II
The United States declared war on Japan following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, a formal entry into World War II.  President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, which forced the removal of all persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast into concentration camps. Inmates lived a communal life in barracks.  Everyday life was sustained by a “shigata ga nai” attitude (not much we can do about it, so make the best of it), but baseball was played as 1) a sign of loyalty to the country who took their rights away, and 2) some semblance of a normal life. Baseball thrived in each of the camps and teams were even allowed to travel to other camps for tournaments. Large crowds attended the games making it the cornerstone of social life. 

POST WW II

After the camps were closed circa 1945-46, the “love of the game” continued as kids, teenagers and young adults played within their relocated cities/towns. 

Baseball thrived in post-war Denver and the surrounding areas. The Northern Colorado Nisei Baseball League (NCNBL) organized local Japanese teams for league and inter-league games. Teams also competed in tournaments, both in-state and out-of-state.

Movie courtesy of Alan Suzuki

The Denver Parks and Recreation also had an open Semi-pro league. Many games were played at Lawson Park, (20th & Welton Streets), which still stands today. This article recalls that field with 2 former players of that time.
https://www.denverpost.com/2020/12/13/23rd-and-welton-the-last-remnants-of-denvers-japanese-american-baseball-leagues/

2019

JARCC partnered with the National Ballpark Museum in 2019 with an exhibit showcasing the growth of baseball in Colorado called “Japanese American Baseball: A Shared Experience.” A highlight of the exhibit was a panel discussion held at Colorado History Museum. Panelists included Kerry Yo Nakagawa, author, director, and Japanese American baseball expert; Dan Evans, former GM of LA Dodgers; Mas Yoshimura, internee and local player; Jay Sanford, Colorado’s baseball expert. (Link Channel 9 video)  

RESOURCES TO LEARN MORE:         

LINKS: 

Partnership event with National Ballpark Museum, 2019 (if linked above, can delete here?)
https://www.9news.com/article/features/denver-exhibit-highlights-history-of-japanese-american-baseball/73-dc3c9ba7-65fa-482e-9090-e1a625b51ae6  Running time 2:52 

Baseball Behind Barbed Wire, Celebrating the Legacy of Japanese American Baseball, Courtesy of Bill Staples, Jr.  An overview of baseball at Gila River, AZ internment camp and the life and legacy of Kenichi Zenimura, father of Japanese American baseball.
https://www.jampilgrimages.com/week-3 (scroll down to Fri, July 3, 2020)  Running time 36:8 

American Innings, History through the Eyes of Baseball; 5 video segments about 5 minutes each; Nisei Baseball, Internment and Conditions, Internment Camp Fields, Questionnaire, Loyalty and California Camps, The 442 and Postwar Japan

BOOKS:

ISSEI BASEBALL: The Story of the First Japanese American Ballplayers by Robert K. Fitts, University of Nebraska Press, April 2020. (add pic & link to purchase?)

Baseball has been called America’s true melting pot, a game that unites us as a people. Issei Baseball focuses on the small group of men who formed the first professional and semi-professional baseball clubs whose history is told through their stories including their incarceration during WW II.

A Los Angeles club was formed in 1905 and began playing local amateur teams. They became the first professional team on either side of the Pacific and barnstormed across the American Midwest in 1906 and 1911. It was through these games that the Japanese earned the respect of their opponents and fans, breaking down racial stereotypes. Baseball became a bridge over which the two cultures shared their love of the game.

NONFICTION PICTURE BOOKS:

Nonfiction picture books are short, quick reads and due to their concentrated content, are for ALL readers. They stimulate a feeling of wonder and a thirst to know more in ways that a traditional nonfiction text may not. The pictures, coupled with factual narrative, allow readers to dig in and dream; see things differently and learn in ways that are pleasurable. Perhaps the greatest benefit of sharing/reading between adults and kids or even adults to adults, is the building of very special bonds.

BARBED WIRE BASEBALL by Marissa Moss, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu; Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2013

Nonfiction Picture Book, includes Afterword, Author & Artist Notes, Bibliography

An amazing eye-opening biography of Kenichi Zenimura, the father of Japanese-American baseball.  This well-documented story reveals the aspirations, passions and dreams of Zeni and his vision for constructing an amazing baseball field at Gila River Concentration Camp.

BASEBALL SAVED US by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee; Lee & Low Books, Inc; 1993.

Historical Fiction Picture Book, includes Notes from Author, Illustrator

A heartwarming story that reveals the traumas of living in a concentration camp and how the game of baseball transcends those feelings.   

Book Club: Baseball Saved Us, an interview w/ author, Ken Mochizuki, Courtesy of Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5olIoqMdNk&feature=emb_logon

THE LUCKY BASEBALL, My Story in a Japanese-American Internment Camp by Suzanne Lieurance; Enslow, 2009

Historical fiction, chapter book, 153 pp

Includes section “Real History,” and references for further reading

Harry Yakamoto lives with his dad and grandparents in an apartment above the restaurant they own in Seven Cedars, CA. Harry is enthralled with baseball and hopes to become a famous player someday. Learn how Harry acquires the lucky baseball and how it impacts his life at Manzanar, the concentration camp where he and his family live for three years. 

Scroll to Top