Asahi.com, an English division of The Asahi Shimbun, had 7-part series on “Major Leaguer Baseball players and coaches with ties to Japan” this spring. Excellent writtings by Daisuke Yoshihara and Naofumi Murakami. Some samples from the series.
Oakland Athletics’ catcher Kurt Suzuki, 27, is an indispensable part of team’s pitching staff. The cheerful Hawaiian, who has his Japanese surname tattooed on his left arm in Chinese characters, hails from Wailuku on Maui, the same hometown as former sumo wrestler Takamiyama.
Chicago Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney has a small tattoo on his left shoulder. The navy tattoo says “Yamamoto” in kanji characters–the surname of his late Japanese grandfather–and also includes his family logo.
Barney, a 25-year-old third-generation Japanese-American, is one of Major League Baseball’s potential rising stars. He made his MLB debut last August, and has been the team’s regular second baseman from this season’s opening game. He is hitting an impressive .331 (as of May 10), and is a solid defensive player with quick reflexes. He is already being mentioned as a strong National League Rookie of the Year candidate and is quickly gaining status as one of the Cubs’ top stars.
Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jeremy Guthrie is an admitted fan of Japanese food, with his favorite being shrimp tempura, which his third-generation Japanese-American mother from Hawaii often makes for him.
Guthrie is a fourth-generation Japanese-American born in Oregon, but he speaks no Japanese and has never visited Japan. Yet, “I feel a strong tie with Japanese culture, but I don’t know why. I feel close to Japanese players,” he says, adding that he feels there is a sense of “Japaneseness” in him that is different from most Americans.
Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino is a big hero in his hometown of Wailuku on Hawaii’s island of Maui.
The third-generation Japanese-American whose grandfather is from Okinawa started playing baseball when he was 6, chasing after a baseball with his older brother on a sugar cane plantation near home. He made it to the major leagues for the first time in April 2003, at the age of 22, becoming the first Maui major leaguer in roughly 80 years.
Don Wakamatsu, who was MLB’s first manager of Japanese descent, says perseverance is the key to leading a team.
“I inherited a lot from my great-grandfather and great-grandmother. They have high ethical standards, a positive attitude and self-discipline,” says the fourth-generation Japanese American. “I am very proud that their blood is flowing in me.”
On his right wrist, League has a tattoo of the kanji meaning “perseverance.” It’s a word that took on special significance for him in 2003 when his grandmother, who is a native of Fukuoka Prefecture, told him to hang in there despite injuries. He has since followed his grandmother’s advice.
The fourth-generation Japanese American does not speak Japanese, but League has had a lot of exposure to Japanese culture, having participated in the summer Bon Odori dance festival and hanging colorful carp banners at his home, which is a custom for families with boys.
When Travis Ishikawa was playing high school baseball at Federal Way High School in the Seattle area, he dreamed of one day playing in the majors and winning the World Series.
He fulfilled the former in 2006 and last year helped his San Francisco Giants win their first World Series championship for the city of San Francisco.
The Seattle-born, fourth-generation Japanese American started swinging the bat at age 6. While he was growing up, Ishikawa was a huge fan of Seattle Mariners outfielder Ken Griffey Jr.
Ishikawa doesn’t speak Japanese, but he says he loves rice dishes. In 2002, he visited Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, as a member of his high school baseball team. He looks back on that year and remembers Japanese people as being polite and kind.
Updating my previous list of Japanese-Americans playing (or played) in the Major League Baseball
Currently playing in Major League or Minor League
- Kurt Suzuki Oakland Athletics catcher Nikkei Sansei
- Shane Victorino Philadelphia Phillies. Outfielder. Grand mother is Japanese, so he is quarter Japanese. From Hawaii.
- Jeremy Guthrie Baltimore Orioles. Starting pitcher. Nikkei mother (Japanese-American who does not speak Japanese) Pitched for WBC Team USA in ’09.
- Travis Ishikawa San Francisco Giants organization. First baseman. Came up to major in 2009
- Billy Sadler Pitcher. San Francisco Giants (08) and Houston Astros (09). Maternal grandmother is Japanese.
- Brandon League Seattle Mariners. Closer. He resides in Honolulu, and is hapa Yonsei. His maternal great-grandparents were born and raised in Fukuoka, Japan. He previously pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays
- Darwin Barney Chicago Cubs. Middle infielder. Third-generation Japanese-American. Grand father was Japanese (Yamamoto)
- Shane Komine Oakland A’s Pitcher. Pure Nikkei Japanese-American.
- Kent Sakamoto Infielder, first baseman. Pittsburgh Pirates organization, but cut and playing in Independent league.
- Charlie Zink Pitcher. Made MLB appearance as a member of Boston Red Sox (2002). Played for Minnesta Twins AAA team. Mother is Japanese. Born in Carmichael, CA.
- Kyle Higashioka Yankees, Half Japanese catcher was selected out of Edison High School, Huntington Beach, California by the New York Yankees in the seventh round (230th overall) of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.
Played in Major League in the past
- Dave Roberts San Francisco Giants. Japanese mother, and American father – currently the San Diego Padres First base coach.
- Ryan Kurosaki Pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals. Kurosaki was the first American of Japanese ancestry to play in the major leagues, which he did in 1975.
- Lenn Sakata 2B/SS 11 years in Major, including Milwaukee Brewers, Baltimore Orioles, Oakland Athletics, New York Yankees. Last SS to start before Cal Ripken Jr. started his streak with the O’s. Coached Yokohama Bay Stars.
- Don Wakamatsu, Catcher, Chicago White Sox. Yonsei Japanese. MLB’s first manager of Japanese descent.
- Onan Masaoka Left-handed Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers. 3rd round draft pick in 1996. Yonsei Japanese.
- Derek Tatsuno University of Hawaii, ’77-79. NCAA record 20 wins in 1979. College Baseball Hall of Fame.
- Mike Lum Half Japanese. Braves, Reds, Cubs. A big year in 1973. Great pinch hitter, once pinch hit for Hank Aaron. Ended career w/ Taiyo Whales. His mother was Japanese and his father was an American serviceman. He was adopted by a Chinese-Hawaiian family.
- Atlee Hammaker Left-handed pitcher. Drafted first-round by Kansas City Royals 1980. Traded to SF Giants 1981. Played for Giants, Padres and Chicago White Sox before retiring 1995. The son of a career military officer of German descent and a Japanese mother, Saeko, from Kyoto. (Thank you for the information, Chuck Hammaker)
- Michael Nakamura. Pitcher, Blue Jays and Twins. Japanese father and Australian mother. Was born in Japan (Nara).
(Some information are courtesy of Wes Nakama, former Sports Writer from the Honolulu Star Advertiser)