By JORDAN IKEDA
Rafu Sports Editor
Unfortunately, it is becoming an increasingly more common theme in the Japanese American community.
From a dwindling interest in the culture, to Japan towns disappearing across the country, to, yes, community newspapers struggling to stay alive.
In many ways, the Nisei generation’s struggle to assimilate and prove themselves as Americans has succeeded. Their kids, the Sansei, took the ball and ran with this notion, becoming successful, wealthy and mixed. Now, the Yonsei and Gosei are even further removed. They don’t speak the language, don’t practice the same cultural nuances, and for the most part, don’t necessarily care to.
But there is one thing that has translated remarkably well over the past 60 years. One thing that still holds the Japanese American community together…Sports.
The Sansei Baseball League celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this month, making a bold, Mark Twain-like announcement about the state of the JA community by drawing over 800 people to North Torrance High School. Kindergartners on up to jiichan and baachan came out to celebrate, enjoy each other’s company and eat.
“I’m just passionate about baseball,” Vice President of Sansei Baseball Jennifer Yanagi told the Rafu Shimpo. “My family is totally into baseball. I think it’s such a great organization. This is where our family makes its ties to the Japanese community. I think it’s wonderful that it’s been here for 50 years. I really hope that people will continue to volunteer and put their kids in the league.”
The problem, however, is that volunteers and participation has followed the same path as many of the other things in the Japanese American community.
“Obviously basketball has been making big inroads in the dwindling population of baseball,” said President of Sansei Baseball Daryl Takata. “Some of the people in the JA community just don’t know that we’re here.”
To combat this, Takata explained that Sansei Baseball has been marketing the league to the community and has seen positive results with an increase in tee ball participation.
The Sansei Baseball League was founded in 1960. According to its mission statement, the league was created for the specific purpose of providing organized sports for the youth of Gardena and South Bay—a place where sportsmanship and teamwork matter more than the win/loss column and where kids get a chance to create enduring friendships while also having the opportunity to play.
“The league started at the JCI Cultural Center field. We started off, like you see in the movies, picking all the rocks up off the dirt,” said Gene Takahashi, who has been involved with the league for its entire existence from playing tee ball to umpiring to coaching his daughters to simply being a fan.
“I’ve been watching [friend’s children] play since they were little kids almost every Sunday because I enjoy watching youth sports,” he said. “I’d like to see Sansei League go on for another 50 years.”
The 50th anniversary celebration opened with former Los Angeles Dodgers centerfielder Rudy “Lawman” Law, who once stole 77 bases for the Chicago White Sox, sharing wisdom and wit as the guest speaker.
Between the 40-yard lines on North’s football field, an archway of red, white and black balloons enclosed tables filled with rows of shiny trophies that were later handed out to smiling kids.
Twelve graduating seniors from high schools throughout the South Bay received scholarship awards. They included: Ryan Akiyama, Matthew Maki, Megan Ono and Brett Walker from North; Alexandra Porutiu, Ryan Shiozaki and Lindsey Sugimoto from Palos Verdes Peninsula; Robert Miyashiro from the California Academy of Math & Science; Brett Sakaguchi from West; Kenji Ueki from Torrance; Evan Shimazu from Loyola; and Erin Sato from El Segundo.
Following the main event, the 800 plus attendees moved to the grass quad adjacent to the football field, where lawn chairs and tents, ice chests and tables, blankets and food created what looked like a highly organized and well-funded refugee camp. A line that quickly grew into the hundreds, wrapped around the “camp” with people ready to pick up boxes of tacos and burgers. Kids ran around with friends. Adults animatedly chatted with each other.
“Our league is more developmental,” said Takata. “We try to make it fun for the kids. We make it a place where families can get together, get to know each other. I think in our league, the kids will not remember the winning and losing as much as the friendships they make that will last a lifetime. It’s a way to connect. It’s a way for our community to stay together.”
Here’s to thriving for another 50 years.
For more pictures, click here to visit the photo blog.
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For those interested in joining the Sansei Baseball League, visit www.sanseibaseball.org or email questions to [email protected]