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New Book Tells Story of Issei Ballplayers

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“Issei Baseball: The Story of the First Japanese American Ballplayers” by Robert K. Fitts will be published by University of Nebraska Press in April.

Baseball has been called America’s true melting pot, a game that unites us as a people. “Issei Baseball” is the story of the pioneers of Japanese American baseball, Harry Saisho, Ken Kitsuse, Tom Uyeda, Tozan Masko, Kiichi Suzuki, and others — young men who came to the U.S. to start a new life but found bigotry and discrimination.

In 1905 they formed a baseball club in Los Angeles and began playing local amateur teams. Inspired by the Waseda University baseball team’s 1905 visit to the West Coast, they became the first Japanese professional baseball club on either side of the Pacific and barnstormed across the American Midwest in 1906 and 1911. Tens of thousands came to see “how the minions of the Mikado played the national pastime.”

As they played, the Japanese earned the respect of their opponents and fans, breaking down racial stereotypes. Baseball became a bridge between the two cultures, bringing Japanese and Americans together through the shared love of the game.

“Issei Baseball” focuses on the small group of men who formed the first professional and semiprofessional Japanese baseball clubs. These players’ story tells the history of early Japanese American baseball, including the placement of Saisho, Kitsuse, and their families in camps during World War II and the Japanese immigrant experience.

Fitts is the author of “Mashi: The Unfulfilled Baseball Dreams of Masanori Murakami, the First Japanese Major Leaguer” (Nebraska, 2015); “Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Baseball” (Nebraska, 2008); and “Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination During the 1934 Tour of Japan” (Nebraska, 2012), winner of the Society of American Baseball Research’s Seymour Medal.

Visit the author’s website: https://www.robfitts.com/

“A book rich in detail, Robert K. Fitts’s ‘Issei Baseball’ adds a valuable piece to the story of the Japanese people in America and is a noteworthy contribution to the legacy of the Issei and the game they loved.” — Samuel O. Regalado, author of “Nikkei Baseball: Japanese American Players from Immigration and Internment to the Major Leagues”

“Long before Ichiro Suzuki and Shohei Ohtani, Japanese Issei were trying to prove they were the best immigrant baseball players in America. During the Jim Crow era of Major League Baseball, a handshake and a victory on the field were their just reward. Rob Fitts majestically re-creates the mood of the era and sheds light on a glorious period of this epic American odyssey.” — Kerry Yo Nakagawa, author, filmmaker, and historian

“Rob Fitts is not only an esteemed baseball historian; he’s also one of the top writers in the game today. He excels at painting pictures with words and taking the reader on a journey back in time with his prose. ‘Issei Baseball’ is an enjoyable read for true baseball fans.” — Bill Staples Jr., co-author of “Gentle Black Giants: A History of Negro Leaguers in Japan”

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