WASHINGTON — The Japanese American Citizens League will be holding its JACL Gala (A Salute to Champions) in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 29. This year’s gala will recognize Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have made outstanding contributions to the field of athletics.
Don Wakamatsu is one of the honorees. A native of Hood River, Ore., he is the son of a Japanese American father and an Irish American mother. His family history has roots in the Tule Lake War Relocation Center in Northern California, where his father was born, and also in the Jerome War Relocation Center in Arkansas. As a Yonsei, Wakamatsu is the first Asian American manager in Major League Baseball history.
Wakamatsu’s sports career at Hayward High School in the San Francisco Bay Area led him to be a three-sport star in basketball, football and baseball; he ultimately chose to play baseball over football. At Arizona State University, he was an All Pac-10 catcher during his last three years, and he earned four varsity letters under College Baseball Hall of Fame ASU coach Jim Brock.
In the 1985 MLB Draft, Wakamatsu began his professional career by being drafted in the 11th round by the Cincinnati Reds; he had reached Double-A level when the Reds released him before the 1989 season. He then signed with the Chicago White Sox, playing with the Double-A Birmingham Barons and Triple-A Vancouver Canadians in 1990 and 1991.
In May 1991, Wakamatsu played 18 games with the majors as a backup catcher for the White Sox. Once a free agent in 1991, he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and throughout 1992-1996 played at the Double-A and Triple-A levels with the Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners, and Milwaukee Brewers.
He transitioned to a coaching career as a minor league manager in the Arizona Diamondbacks system, managing the Arizona League Diamondbacks (1997), the Class-A High Desert Mavericks (1998), and the Double-A El Paso Diablos (1999). He was named Manager of the Year in the California League after leading the High Desert Mavericks to the playoffs in 1998. In 2000, he managed the Erie Sea Wolves, the Anaheim Angels’ Double-A affiliate, and acted as a field coordinator with the Angels.
Wakamatsu began coaching in the majors from 2003-2006 as a Rangers bench coach and in 2007 became the third-base coach for the Rangers. In 2008, he served as the bench coach of the Oakland Athletics.
With an impressive history in MLB as both a player and coach, Wakamatsu made history on Nov. 19, 2008 when he was named the manager of the Mariners. During that season, he was officially selected as a coach for the 2009 MLB All-Star Game in St. Louis.
Currently, he serves as the Toronto Blue Jays’ bench coach. Wakamatsu and his wife, Laura, have three children, Jake, Luke, and Jadyn.
JACL National Executive Director Floyd Mori said, “My dream as a teenage ball player was the Major Leagues. Don Wakamatsu has made that dream a reality for many young ball players of today. He exemplified character as well as talent in an industry where many only shoot for headlines. Don will be the light on a hill for many young people who are looking for positive role models from which to pattern their lives.”
In addition to Wakamatsu, the JACL Gala will be honoring several other outstanding individuals who made a name in athletics. For more information, visit www.jacl.org.