Sun Spots: Baseball and Tennis

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Hope everyone had a thoughtful Memorial Day weekend. As a community, we must continue to honor the sacrifice of the Nisei generation and what they provided for all of us who came after. My grandfather fought in the 442nd in G Company. I was fortunate enough to go with him to one of the reunions in Hawaii over a decade ago. My other grandfather, was interned. In light of their sacrifices, here’s a nice story about baseball in camp that can jump start this week’s Sun Spots. (As always, click on the highlighted text for the full story).

Geoffrey Dunn, special to the Monterey County Herald writes: As the 2010 Major League Baseball season reminds us that hope springs eternal, a long forgotten chapter of local sports history waits quietly to be reopened. Players from Japan are now commonplace in the big leagues — Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners and Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Boston Red Sox have become American sports icons — but few contemporary fans of the national pastime are aware that Japanese American baseball teams flourished throughout the Monterey Bay region during the era leading up to World War II. “Baseball was my first love in those days,” recalled 91-year-old Tom Mine, a left-hand-hitting outfielder who played on the Watsonville Kasei team in the late 1930s. “We played some pretty good ball. But mostly, we had a lot of fun.”

Here’s some more baseball. As those of you who follow the J-Slanted column in the newspaper read, Akinori Iwamura lost his starting spot. Here’s a great write up by Michael Street of Baseball Daily Digest in his column Pacific Perspectives: Akinori Iwamura had lost the starting job at 2B, in favor of prospect Neil Walker. This is a big blow for Aki, who recently raised his batting average 20 points by hitting .250 for a 9-game stretch (he was hitting .152 at the time). He’s a veteran of the American and Japanese leagues, having won titles in the Japan Series and World Baseball Classic, and appeared in the World Series for Tampa Bay. At 31, he’s hardly ready for the scrap heap. Beyond the effect on Iwamura, the move also reveals the bizarre myopia of Pittsburgh management. After all, they traded for Aki in the offseason so that they could pay him $4.85M to bring experience and a winning spirit to a club for whom the latter is as unfamiliar as a three-piece suit at a monster truck rally.

Chris Haft and Cash Kruth on MLB.com write about Travis Ishikawa as a pinch hitter: Travis Ishikawa has adopted a novel approach to preparing for his rare opportunities to hit. Recently, he has taken less batting practice, not more. Ishikawa has shelved his near-daily early-hitting sessions and relies on regular batting practice and stints in the indoor cage adjacent to the dugout during the game. The backup first baseman attributed his success off the bench to this change. Entering Monday, Ishikawa led the National League with a .556 pinch-hitting average (5-for-9). That included doubles in each of his previous two at-bats.

After his surprising run at Roland Garros this year, thought this piece, though a bit dated, is a nice tie-in with what Kei Nishikori is up against. He’s slotted to participate in next week’s AEGON championships in London, a warmup for Wimbledon. Rob York of the Bleacher Report writes about size matters: It’s not news that men’s tennis these days is hardly hospitable to those under six feet in height. While the women’s tour has a player, Justine Henin, who shows that tenacity when combined with one-in-a-billion racket acceleration can make a female of average height a Grand Slam champion, the men’s tour offers no parallels. In another era, a guy like Kei Nishikori might have had a lot of success ahead of him. The 20-year-old Japan native and current resident of Florida’s skills have been evident ever since he won the Delay Beach title in 2008, outfoxing the huge-hitting James Blake through his speed and his taste for angles and drop shots.

Dave Kane of the State Journal-Register writes about all the talent that will be heading to Panther Creek next week when the LPGA stops by. A quick look at that list, means there will be a lot of Asian faces in Springfield, including this season’s money leader, Ai Miyazato: The Classic field will be led by Japan’s Ai Miyazato, a three-time winner this season and No. 1 on the money list at $505,238. There’s also Norway’s Suzann Pettersen, No. 2 in money and looking for her first 2010 win after three runner-up finishes. Taiwan’s Yani Tseng, who finished second at Panther Creek in 2008, is third in money after claiming the tour’s first major — the Kraft Nabisco Championship — in early April. South Korea’s Sun Young Yoo is fourth in money after she topped Texan Angela Stanford in the finals of the Sybase Match Play Championship May 23. Second-year tour member Jiyai Shin of South Korea, last season’s Rookie of the Year, has not won this season but is No. 5 on the money list. She’s also No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings in the scramble to find a successor to Lorena Ochoa, who retired from the tour a month ago.

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Compiled by JORDAN IKEDA/Rafu Sports Editor

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