“Japanese American Baseball in California: A History” by Kerry Yo Nakagawa has just been published by The History Press.
The book includes a preface by the late actor Noriyuki “Pat” Morita and a foreword by former New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver.
Four generations of Japanese Americans broke down racial and cultural barriers in California by playing baseball. Behind the barbed wire of concentration camps during World War II, baseball became a tonic of spiritual renewal for disenfranchised Japanese Americans who played America’s pastime while illegally imprisoned. Later, it helped heal resettlement wounds in Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Central Valley and elsewhere.
Today, the names of Japanese American ballplayers still resonate as their legacy continues. Mike Lum was the first Japanese American player in the Major Leagues in 1967, Lenn Sakata the first in the World Series in 1983, and Don Wakamatsu the first manager in 2008.
Join Nakagawa in this update of his 2001 classic as he chronicles sporting achievements that doubled as cultural benchmarks.
Nakagawa is an author, filmmaker, actor, historian, husband and father of two. Baseball, and sports in general, have been a large part of his family legacy. In 1993, he swam from Alcatraz to San Francisco, and in 1994, he played as an all-star for the national champion Fresno Bandit semipro team. He is also a black belt in the martial arts and an advanced tennis player.
His athletic family history includes his dad, who was a semipro football player and sumo champion, and his uncles — Johnny, Lefty and Mas — who competed with Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Lefty O’Doul, Jackie Robinson and the all-stars of the Negro League.
His dedication to the Fresno-based Nisei Baseball Research Project (www.niseibaseball.com) is well respected and has morphed into a educational organization to bring awareness and education about the internment of Japanese Americans through the prism of baseball and many multimedia projects.
The NBRP exhibit “Diamonds in the Rough” has achieved international status, having been shown in such locations as the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. and the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in Tokyo.
Nakagawa’s other visions to communicate this story include a documentary with Pat Morita entitled “Diamonds in the Rough: Zeni and the Legacy of Japanese American Baseball,” a tribute to Kenichi Zenimura (1900-1968), founder of the Central California All-Star team, the Fresno Athletic Club; and “American Pastime,” which he produced and acted in, a feature film that is still educating and entertaining teachers and students through its dramatic narrative.
He has chaired tributes to Nisei baseball pioneers with the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland A’s, Arizona Diamondbacks, Fresno Grizzlies and Sacramento River Cats. Nakagawa is also as a board member for the Japanese American National Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C.
Last May at San Francisco’s AT&T Park, Nakagawa, wearing a vintage uniform, served as honorary catcher when Masanori “Mashi” Murakami — who became the first Japanese-born player in Major League Baseball when he pitched for the Giants in the mid-1960s — threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Nakagawa and mystery author Naomi Hirahara will discuss and sign copies of their books on Saturday, Aug. 9, at 1:30 p.m. at Kinokuniya Bookstore in Little Tokyo’s Weller Court, Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Street near First Street.
The History Press, based in Charleston, S.C., brings a new way of thinking to history publishing — preserving and enriching community by empowering history enthusiasts to write local stories for local audiences. Since 2004, it has published nearly 3,000 local and regional history titles from coast to coast. For more information, visit www.historypress.net.