LODI — Masato “Mauch” Yamashita, manager of the Lodi JACL baseball team — with which he had been involved for some six decades — died Dec. 7 from complications following a heart attack. He was 86.
Yamashita, a veteran of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which fought valiantly in World War II, sponsored the team in the Northern California Japanese American Baseball League and never asked for money from the players. He is being remembered as a class act who lived and breathed baseball to the end.
“He’s been with the team year in and year out, more than 60 years,” said Bobby Umemoto, manager of the Li’l Tokyo Giants and Nisei Athletic Union board member. “He always had a smile. I’m sad to see him go.”
Yamashita began playing for the Lodi team in 1939, but this team was disbanded when he was a junior at Lodi High and was sent to the Rohwer, Ark. internment camp. He continued to play baseball on a camp team until he was drafted.
Following his service with the 442nd in Italy, for which he received a Purple Heart, he returned to Lodi and continued playing baseball. He was asked by Mas Okuhara to become a player-coach during the 1950s.
Even into his 80s, Yamashita traveled with the team to every game, including road trips to Fresno and Los Angeles.
In an email to the Rafu, Mike Furutani, a sports reporter with KSBW-TV in Salinas and a former Lodi JACL and San Francisco Hawks player, wrote, “I can’t say enough about how I and the many, many generations of ballplayers have benefitted from Mauch’s generosity and kindness.”
Furutani described Yamashita as one of the last of his generation of ballplayers, and recalled the legendary — but always friendly — rivalry he had with Florin Athletic Club manager Jim Tsukamoto.
In 2002, the City of Lodi dedicated a baseball field in Yamashita’s honor at Kofu Park, named for Lodi’s sister city in Japan. At the dedication, a Lodi park and recreation official said, “The naming of this ball field as Masato ‘Mauch’ Yamashita Field represents our admiration of his personal efforts with a team that has represented Lodi over the decades, and honors the many players and assistant coaches that have been a part of this organization.”
Yamashita was a mechanic at Pine Street Garage and in 1961 purchased Pine Auto Parts with business partner Will Kagawa, remaining involved with the store for the rest of his life. He was a member of JACL, Buddhist Church of Lodi, and Nisei VFW Post 8985 in Sacramento, as well as an honorary member of Mokuyo-Kai Golf Club in Lodi.
Survivors include his cousins and their spouses: John (Ruby) Hiramoto, Terry Ogata Hiramoto, Masako (Hiro) Fujikawa, Keiko (Claude M.) Hiramoto-Hess, Edward Hiramoto, and Kenny (Yuki) Yamashita.
Services were held on Dec. 17 at Buddhist Church of Lodi with Rev. Katsuya Kusonoki officiating, followed by a reception at the JACL Hall. Memorial contributions may be made to the church, located at 23 N. Stockton St., Lodi, CA 95240.