Japanese American Monument at Gila River

On Sunday Nov. 6, 2011, my son Josh and I helped clean up the Japanese American Monument at the Gila River Indian Community.

Organized by JACL leader Ted Namba, over 30 volunteers made the 20+ mile trip to Gila to help paint the monument and pick up trash. In addition to the community service efforts, the morning included talks and presentations by Mas Inoshita, Arizona Japanese American patriarch; Ken Koshio, Taiko Drummer; and myself.

Below are some photos taken by OASIS magazine publisher George Nakamura and video I shot of Ken Koshio on the taiko drums.

It was an honor to help take care of the Japanese American monument that was constructed almost 70 years ago. Below is an excerpt from the Gila News-Courier in 1943 that details the construction of the monument. Most likely the photo depicts what the structure looked like on December 28, 1943, without the wooden boards that listed the 400 names of the Japanese American soldiers from Gila River.

December 1943 also saw considerable progress on the construction of the Rivers Honor Roll monument being built by the U.S. servicemen’s parents and relatives associations. According to Kenji Arima, advisor for the monument, the project was almost half-way done by the end of 1943. “The hardest part of the job will be the construction of the name plate which will contain more than 400 names when completed,” stated Arima. Relatives of servicemen were asked to help build the monument.

Source: “Monument Half Finished,” Gila News-Courier, December 28, 1943, pg. 4

Arizona Major League Alumni (AZMLA) Awards Dinner, 2011

On Friday Nov. 4, I attended the Arizona Major League Alumni Awards Dinner. There I saw Roland Hemond receive the AZMLA Lifetime Achievement Award, and also had the pleasure of meeting female umpire Perry Lee Barber. Barber has experience officiating in Japan and is also colleagues with Kazuo Sayama, Japanese baseball historian who I referenced in my book for the 1927 tour to Japan of Zenimura's Fresno Athletic Club and Lon Goodwin's Philadelphia Royal Giants.

Photo: Roland Hemond and Perry Lee Barber
Photo: Me and Perry Lee Barber

Here's what the SABR press had to say about the event:


SABR Member Roland Hemond Receives AZMLA Lifetime Achievement Award

Friday Nov ,4 2011 -- In recognition of his decades-long effort to support those in need, Roland Hemond received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arizona Major League Alumni during the third annual AZMLA awards dinner on Friday night in Tempe, Arizona.

"Roland is one of the most respected men in baseball," said Arizona Fall League director Steve Cobb, who presented the award to Hemond. "He has earned that respect, I believe, by helping others succeed and helping those who have fallen on hard times."

Earlier this year, Hemond became the second recipient of the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award.

Laurel Prieb, a member of the SABR Advisory Board, delivered the keynote speech at Friday's dinner, which was part of the weekend festivities during the SABR Arizona Fall League Conference. He recounted the exciting end of the regular season and postseason in Major League Baseball, and said the offseason is becoming just as much fun.

Attendees also took in the "Play Ball: The Cactus League Experience", an exhibit at the Arizona Historical Society Museum in Tempe that puts Arizona’s rich spring training history on display. SABR member Bill Staples Jr. was on hand to sign copies of his book, Kenichi Zenimura: Japanese American Baseball Pioneer, and passing out baseball cards of the World War II internment camp survivor.


CA Tour Recap: Kenso Zenimura & "Fibber" Hirayama

Photo: Left to right: Kenso Zenimura, me, Fibber Hirayama, October 9, 2011, Clovis, CA

The people of Central California were great. Everywhere we went my family and I were treated well. In addition to seeing familiar friends like Kenso Zenimura and Kerry Yo Nakagawa, I was able to meet Satoshi "Fibber" Hirayama for the first time. Fibber is awesome, so kind, so gracious and great with the kids (Josh and Ali) too. Fibber was an all-star outfielder with the Hiroshima Carp during the 1950s. According to him, his career in Japan was made possible by Kenichi Zenimura:

“(Coach) Zenimura was a constant student of the game. He always looked for the little details. He would beat you with speed, bunt, double steal. It was a very fast and aggressive style of baseball. He was the best at teaching those principles. His sons were already stars with the Hiroshima Carp, so I went to join them soon after. The reason I was able to go to Japan and have a great career was because of Mr. Zenimura’s faith in me.” - Satoshi "Fibber" Hirayama

Nisei Baseball Symposium & Book Signing

If you are in the Central California area, please join us for the Nisei Baseball Symposium, a panel discussion of Japanese American baseball experts, which will now be part of my next book signing at the UJCC Church on Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 12:30 p.m.

Included in the panel discussion are Nisei Baseball legends Fibber Hirayama and Howard Zenimura; former Fresno Bee sportswriter Bruce Farris; and author, filmmaker and baseball historian Kerry Yo Nakagawa. Both Kerry and I serve on the board of the Nisei Baseball Research Project.

It promises to be a great event. Hope to see you there. ~ Bill

Saturday, October 15, 2011
12:30 pm to 2:30 pm

United Japanese Christian Church
136 North Villa Avenue, Clovis, CA 93612 | MAP
Phone: 559-322-0701

California Book Signing For "Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese Baseball Pioneer"

The family and I are headed to the Fresno area for a couple book events and a California adventure. If you are in the area, please join us for the following dates:

Sunday, October 9, 2011
12:30 pm to 2:30 pm

Saturday, October 15, 2011
12:30 pm to 2:30 pm

United Japanese Christian Church
136 North Villa Avenue, Clovis, CA 93612 | MAP
Phone: 559-322-0701

I will be in the Fresno area for a book reading, sale and signing of "Kenich Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer." Joining me are special guests, Nisei Baseball Legends Kenso “Howard” Zenimura (below, left) and Satoshi “Fibber” Hirayama (below, right). Attendees will be able to purchase the book at the special event price of $25 (normally priced at $40).

Don Wakamatsu Honored at JACL Gala

The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), the nation's oldest and largest Asian American civil and human rights organization, held its Gala, "A Salute to Champions" in Washington, D.C. on September 29, 2011. This year's Gala awarded Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have made outstanding contributions to the field of athletics. This year the JACL honored: 
  • Congressman Eni Faleomavaega, American Samoa
  • Cappy Harada, American-Japan baseball relations ambassador (awarded posthumously)
  • Don Wakamatsu, the first Asian American manager in Major League Baseball (MLB) history
  • Wat Misaka, the first person of color to be drafted to the National Basketball Association
My family and I felt truly welcomed at our first National JACL event. Don Wakamatsu (photo below, left)was kind enough to take time out of the evening to sign our Kenichi Zenimura bio for those who bought the book that night. Also, my son Josh, who prefers basketball to baseball, enjoyed getting to meet the NBA pioneer Wat Misaka (photo below, right). And as a board member of the Nisei Baseball Research Project (and baseball fan), I also enjoyed the tribute to Cappy Harada. Truly one of the great Nisei pioneers.

9/11 Reflections: Baseball, Buddhism and How to Be Happy and Free

If it were not for the terrorist attacks of 9/11 the book “Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer” would not have been written. The book was my emotional and intellectual response to the tragic events of that day, and the impact it had on the world afterward.
I’ve been a baseball fan since 1980 and had never heard of Kenichi Zenimura, the Nisei Leagues (very similar to the Negro Leagues), or even WWII Japanese American incarceration camp baseball prior to my serendipitous Google search of “Gila River” and “baseball” in late 2004.
And I suspect that under ordinary circumstances (in a pre- 9/11 world) I would have glossed over the topic of JA incarceration baseball saying to myself “wow, that’s fascinating,” and moved on to other things.

But because of the obvious parallels between 9/11 attacks in 2001 and the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, I was compelled to dive deeper and learn more, specifically to explore how our country (the U.S.) responded to those innocent individuals who just so happen to “look like the enemy.”

Generally speaking, it appears that as a country we did learn the lessons of WWII. We didn’t have incarceration camps for Arab Americans after 9/11. But no doubt though that the fear, prejudice, and racism manifested itself in different, more subtle -- and not so subtle -- ways, i.e. random hate crimes and killings, racial profiling, the Patriot Act, etc.

As I dove deeper into U.S. history before and during WWII, I developed a greater understanding of the socio-economic factors that led to JA incarceration. And at the same time, I began to see some not-so-obvious parallels between the post-Pearl Harbor hysteria and our collective behavior after 9/11.

For example, the story resonates on a deeper, more psychological level. As a result of things like the Patriot Act, increased security, the fear to openly travel the world, fear that we might be attacked at home by terrorists at any moment, we, in essence, collectively incarcerated ourselves. Not physical incarceration, but a psychological one, surrounding ourselves with invisible fences and barbed wire -- constructed of fear and paranoia.

And now seeing that we as an entire nation, perhaps even the entire world, were psychologically incarcerated, I asked myself if there were any lessons to be learned, wisdom to be gained, from the Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during WWII.  And so I dove even deeper…

Lessons Learned

“How does one achieve happiness and freedom in a world that is less happy and free?” This is the magic question for us in a post 9/11 world, and from my perspective, the answer can be found in the story of Japanese American incarceration during WWII.

As I’ve said many times before, it is more than just about the Japanese American experience; it is about the timeless and universal human condition. It is the story of us all.

The Buddhist wisdom that I take away from the Japanese American incarceration is “the three answers.” I first came across this lesson in a Zen parable shared by Les Kaye, a former IBM executive who is now a Buddhist teacher in Northern California. Kaye had put a Buddhist spin on Leo Tolstoy’s classic parable titled “The Three Questions.” The three questions are:
·         When is the best time to do something?
·         Who is the most important person?
·         What is the most important thing to do?

In Kaye’s version of the story, the King who asks these questions goes on a journey and unknowingly encounters an assassin who is out to kill him. Through a series of twists and turns, the king ends up saving the life of his would-be-assassin. In the end, the king discovers the answers to his questions:
·         The present moment is the best time to do something;
·         The person you are with is the most important person; and
·         Making the person you are with happy is the most important thing you can do.

Applying this story to Kenichi Zenimura (and his Japanese American peers), we see:

The present moment: At first Zenimura hated being in Arizona, Gila River, and the incarceration camp. But he had no choice and he had no idea how long he was going to be there … would it be a year, 3 years, 10 years? The only thing he could control was the here and the now. And he learned to make the best of it.

The person you are with: Zeni would have preferred to be in Arkansas with his Fresno peers (most Japanese Americans from Fresno were sent to AR, but due to his wife’s tuberculosis, Zenimura and his family were sent to the dry weather of AZ) , or better yet, back in California with his community. But he wasn’t, so he turned his attention to his surrounding community.

Making the other happy:  Zenimura did what he knew best … he built a baseball field and founded a league. Baseball created a sense of normalcy, community, and hope for those incarcerated at Gila River. It helped minimize their suffering.

And in the incarceration camps, this exchange occurred in areas other than Zenimura and baseball. There were people with a wide variety of skills and passions who shared them with others, such as music, art, gardening, science, basketball, football, golf, etc.
The take-away: be fully present every day, appreciate and value the people you are with (which also means NOT dwelling on those who are absent), and fully share your passions with the other to bring happiness into their lives. Do this, and you can find joy, freedom, and a sense of fulfillment anywhere, anytime.

It’s so simple, it’s genius. Yet, unfortunately, it’s so hard to do.

“When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.” FOR ME, the lessons of 9/11/01 (and 12/7/41) are this:

Armed with the wisdom above, we can endure any situation: like being unjustly incarcerated by your own country; or being attacked by terrorists and paralyzed by fear; or surviving the loss of a loved one.

Armed with this wisdom, every day, every person, every moment is a gift to be cherished.

Armed with this wisdom, happiness and freedom are possible anywhere, anytime.

Armed with this wisdom, life is beautiful … no matter what happens.

Armed with this wisdom, we take nothing for granted.

Armed with this wisdom, we are blessed.

Arizona JACL Zenimura Book Signing Recap

I want to extend a sincere thank you to Ted Namba for inviting me to the recent event at the Arizona JACL hall in Glendale. It was a honor to have the opportunity to share the new Zenimura bio, talk baseball, and mix and mingle with the community (especially with my favorite pioneers Mas Inoshita and James "Step" Tomooka).

Among the many people in attendence was George Nakamura, editor of Oasis, the only Japanese publication in Arizona. George was ready with the camera and took some photos to accompany the story below.


21日夜、新著「ケンイチ・ゼニムラ、日系野球の開拓者(Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer)」のサイン会がJACL(日系市民協会)ホールで行われた。著者のビル・ステイプルズさんは、アメリカン・ベースボール・リサーチのメンバーであり、 二世野球研究会の理事でもある。2004年にケンイチ・ゼニムラ(銭村健一郎)のことをオンラインで知り、その後彼の人生を詳細に調べた。また、日本のテレビ朝日でもゼニムラの人生に興味を抱き、そのドキュメンタリー番組が作成された。これは、日本で今年の8月8日に放映されている。将来は和訳の本の出版もありそうだ。

According to Google translator, here's the gist of the article:

2) Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer, author signs his new book at JACL event

On the evening of August 21, an autograph session with the author of the new book "Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer, was held at the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) hall. Author Bill Staples is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and is also a board member of the Nisei Baseball Research Project. Bill moved to Chandler in 2004 and first learned about Kenichi Zenimura online, and then examined his life in greater detail. In addition, the life of Zenimura has gained the interest of TVAsahi in Japan, who created a documentary of his life. The show aired in Japan on August 8, 2011. It is also likely that there will be a Japanese translation of this publication.

Photos: George Nakamura, Oasis Magazine, 2011

TV Asahi in Japan Features Zenimura and His Historic WWII Ballpark

(Photo, left to right: Takahashi, Maeda, Kono, Staples, Uramoto, Nasu.) On July 20, 2011 I had the good fortune of meeting with a crew from TV Asahi in Japan to discuss my new book, Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer, and serve as a behind-the-scenes consultant for a segment on Zenimura that aired August 8, 2011.


Interest in Kenichi Zenimura is growing on both sides of the Pacific. On August 8, 2011, TV Asahi in Japan featured "The Father of Japanese American Baseball" and his historic baseball field at Gila River, Arizona, during WWII. If you can read Japanese, click here for more details. Even if you can't read it, it's still pretty cool to check out.

I had the good fortune of serving as a consultant for the news segment. On July 20th the TV Asahi crew came to our house in Chandler, AZ, to interview me and review photos and research used for the new Zenimura book. Despite the language barrier (only one member of their crew spoke English), we had a great time and really enjoyed the cross-cultural exchange.

Zenimura Book Events: August 2011

Please join me at a future presentation and/or book signing:

Saturday, August 13, 2011 / 10 a.m.
Sun City Grand Sports Interest Group
Sun City Grand Cimarron Center
17100 W. Clearview Blvd.
Surpirse, AZ 85387 | MAP

Details: Zenimura presentation, book sales, signing

MORE INFO: 623-670-2859 (Steve Rothschild)


Sunday, August 21, 2011 / 6:30-8:00 pm
5414 W.Glenn Drive
Glendale, AZ 85310 | MAP
Details: Book sale and signing: Commemorative bookmark and baseball card included with book purchase
Price: $27.99 (discounted 30% of suggested retail price)

The Father of Japanese American Baseball, Eddie Vedder and a Ukulele

The new biography of Kenichi Zenimura, the Father of Japanese American Baseball, officially launched on July 5, 2011.

The following day my wife and I traveled to Long Beach, CA, for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) annual conference where I was scheduled to present on Zenimura’s career against Negro League teams.

It turns out that the first day of the SABR conference was the same day of the Eddie Vedder concert at the Long Beach Terrace Theater. Vedder, the lead singer of Pearl Jam, was playing solo to promote his new album Ukulele Songs.

According to NPR.org, “…Vedder has taken up one of the most useful creative tools available: limitation. It's embodied in a little finger-strummed thing (ukulele) that the Pearl Jam singer picked up during a beer run in Hawaii nearly 15 years ago…"

I really enjoyed the evening of Eddie’s Ukulele songs. And coincidentally, fictional baseball legend Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh from the movie Bull Durham, aka Tim Robbins, was at the show too (my bet is that we were the only SABR members at the show ;-).

As Vedder played the image of Kenichi Zenimura strumming his ukulele on page 21 of my new book came to mind. There was something about the way Vedder was holding the instrument that struck me as odd and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Until it hit me … Vedder is right handed and his instrument was pointing to my right; Zenimura is also right handed yet his instrument points to my left in the photo. “Uh oh,” I thought, “my Zenimura photo is accidentally flipped.”

The error occurred because I have in my possession a catalog of rare photo negatives from Zenimura’s later years in Hawaii (1916-1920) and I scanned the image. It didn’t dawn on me to double check if Zeni was holding the ukulele the proper direction.

The good news is that the publisher McFarland prints the book in small runs (batches of 150 to 200 copies) so they were able to correct the image on the second print run, which they have already.

So what this means is that those who buy one of the first 150 copies will be the owner of a rare collectable, a version of the Zeni bio featuring what I am calling the erroneous “Eddie Vedder ukulele” photo on page 21.

As of July 19 there were only 50 or so remaining … so make sure to order your special edition “Eddie Vedder ukulele” version of the Zeni bio today.

You can find some good deals online here.

New Biography of Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer, Now Available

Zenimura, “Father of Japanese American Baseball”, competed with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and other Hall of Famers from the Negro Leagues and Japan

JEFFERSON, N.C. (July 5, 2011) McFarland & Co., the leading independent publisher of academic and nonfiction books, is pleased to announce the release of the new biography “Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer.”

Written by baseball historian and author Bill Staples, Jr., and featuring a foreword by current Toronto Blue Jays bench coach Don Wakamatsu, the first Asian-American manager in major league history, the new biography delivers a thorough and fascinating account of Kenichi Zenimura (1900-1968), the man recognized by historians as the “Father of Japanese-American Baseball.”

While Jackie Robinson and the Negro Leagues have been well documented, few baseball fans know about the Japanese American Nisei Leagues, or of their most influential figure, Zenimura. A phenomenal player who excelled at all nine positions, “Zeni” possessed a gift for using the game to transcend the ignorance and intolerance of his era.

As a player, captain, and manager, he worked tirelessly to export the American style of play in Japan, leading several goodwill trips to Asia and helping to negotiate tours of Japan by Negro League all-stars and Babe Ruth. One of the most fascinating chapters of Zenimura’s career occurred when he established a 32-team league behind the barbed wire of Arizona’s Gila River Internment Camp during World War II.

In anticipation of the Arizona centennial in 2012, the new Zenimura biography has been named an official Arizona Centennial Legacy Project by the Arizona Historical Advisory Commission (AHAC). The award recognizes the internment of Japanese Americans and Zeni’s efforts during WWII as one of the most significant events of Arizona history in the past 100 years.

The Zenimura bio was funded in part by a grant from the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) and also supported by numerous organizations during the three-year research phase for the effort, including the Nisei Baseball Research Project, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Baseball Reliquary, the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), the Japanese American National Museum, the Gila River Indian Community, and the Asian Pacific American Studies department at Arizona State University.

“Initially I was drawn to Zenimura’s story because of the parallels between Pearl Harbor and the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and attitudes towards those who look like the enemy,” said author Bill Staples. “In the end though I discovered that the story of Zenimura is about more than just a great baseball man, his life serves as an example of how it’s possible to achieve happiness and freedom in a world that is less happy and free.”

Staples added, “the story of Zenimura is more than just about 20th-century Japanese American baseball, it’s about the timeless and shared human condition. Anyone who’s had to overcome huge obstacles to achieve a dream or goal will relate to his story.”

Baseball-industry insiders offer the following praise for “Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer”:

• Bill Staples, Jr. is a dedicated baseball historian, author and a meticulous researcher who utilizes twenty-first century technology to root out the most obscure facts about his subjects. His work on Kenichi Zenimura is a groundbreaking effort. – William F. McNeil, baseball historian, author, Sporting News-SABR Research Award Winner (2007), Five-time recipient of the Robert Peterson Award

• Staples’ tireless research and love for the game has resulted in "Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer,” one of the great untold stories of our American pastime and an essential for any baseball faithful. – Kerry Yo Nakagawa, historian, author, filmmaker, founder/director of the Nisei Baseball Research Project

• Hopefully (this book) helps transform a long-neglected chapter of baseball history – Nisei baseball history – into a well-chronicled saga for all fans of all races, creeds and colors to appreciate. – Don Wakamatsu, First Asian-American Manager in MLB History


KEYWORDS: Kenichi Zenimura, baseball history, Japanese American, Nisei Leagues, Negro Leagues, Internment, WWII, 9/11, civil rights, U.S. history, American history, Arizona history, Hawaii history, California history, Japanese history, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Lefty O’Doul, Joe DiMaggio, Don Wakamatsu, National Baseball Hall of Fame.

About the Author
Bill Staples, Jr. is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) in Arizona with a passion for researching and telling the untold stories of the national pastime. His areas of expertise include Japanese American and Negro Leagues baseball history as a context for exploring the themes of civil rights, cross-cultural relations and globalization.

He is a board member of the Nisei Baseball Research Project (niseibaseball.com), chair of the SABR Asian Baseball Committee, research contributor to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, past speaker at the Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and two-time presenter at the Arizona SABR Annual Spring Training convention (2007, 2009)

In addition to “Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer” (McFarland, 2011), Staples is also a contributing author to the following academic endeavors: article “Black Giant: Biz Mackey’s Texas Negro League Career” in Black Ball: A Journal of the Negro Leagues (McFarland, Spring 2008); and “Japanese American Baseball” in Asian Americans: An Encyclopedia of Social, Cultural, and Political History (ABC-CLIO, 2011). He has also contributed to numerous articles in publications including The Rafu Shimpo, The Christian Science Monitor, The Arizona Republic, San Antonio Express, and MLB.com.

Staples holds an BA from the University of North Texas and an MBA from Arizona State University.

Learn more at: http://www.zenimura.com.

About McFarland
McFarland is a leading independent publisher of academic and nonfiction books. McFarland is especially known for covering topics of popular appeal in a serious and scholarly fashion, and for going to great lengths to manufacture their books to the highest standards and library specifications. Learn more at: http://www.mcfarlandpub.com.

SABR 41 Conference Presentation Preview

On July 8, 2011 I'll be sharing the following presentation at the SABR 41 conference in Long Beach, CA. If you're attending, come check it out.

Baseball Brothers: Kenichi Zenimura and Nisei-Negro Leagues Competition in California, by Bill Staples, Jr.

Babe Ruth's 1934 barnstorming tour in Japan is legendary, but it was far from the only contact between Japanese and American baseball clubs. Illuminating a chapter of his 2011 biography of Japanese American baseball pioneer Kenichi Zenimura, Bill Staples, Jr. recounts encounters between Zenimura-led teams and Negro Leaguers piloted by Lon Goodwin ... almost a decade before the Babe crossed the Pacific. The tours by the all-black Philadelphia Royal Giants, little known here in the U.S., have been credited by Japanese sources as an important inspiration leading to the creation of professional leagues in their nation.

Learn more: http://sabr.org/content/sabr-41-friday-research-presentations-details

“Did the Twin Towers fall when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor?”

“Did the Twin Towers fall when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor?” A second grader asked me this question during the Q&A portion of my presentation this past week. You gotta love the mind of an eight-year old. In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May) I was invited to speak to their entire second-grade class at my daughter’s school about “Japanese American Baseball in Arizona”.

The topic is relevant for many reasons, especially because the school is located about 15 miles from the Japanese American Internment Camp at Gila River (AZ). Gila River is where approximately 13,000 people of Japanese ancestry were unjustly incarcerated during WWII. The most famous Gila River internee was Japanese American baseball pioneer, Kenichi Zenimura. Leading up to the presentation the teachers shared two books with their students: “Baseball Saved Us,” by Ken Machizuki, and “Teammates” by Peter Golenbock. Sharon Robinson, Jackie’s daughter, once said “there are numerous parallels between my father’s story and that of Japanese Americans.” These two books are great primers to get eight-year olds starting to think about the complexities and attitudes that led to both the segregation of African-Americans and the internment of Japanese American during WWII. I closed the presentation with an interactive session on Jackie’s nine values that helped him – and Japanese Americans – overcome the tough times in their lives. The nine values are: courage, determination, teamwork, persistence, integrity, citizenship, justice, commitment, and excellence.

And finally, here’s some of the highlights from the Q&A session:

Q: “Mr. Staples, did you ever meet Babe Ruth?”
A: Unfortunately I did not. He died in 1948. I was born in 1969.

Q: “Will Kenichi Zenimura be joining us today?”
A: Unfortunately he will not. He died in 1968.

Q: “Who are some great ball players that we should know about?”
A: Great question. My three favorites are Satchel Paige, Negro League pitcher who didn’t get a chance to pitch in the majors until he was 42; Josh Gibson, Negro Leaguer and perhaps one of the greatest hitters of all time; and of course, Kenichi Zenimura.

Q: “Did the Twin Towers fall when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor?”
A: Wow, great question. Those are actually two different events, but they do have something in common. The bombing of Pearl Harbor occurred in 1941, and the terrorist attacks of 9/11 occurred in 2001 … 70 years apart. Here’s what they have in common: After 9/11 there was a concern that because the terrorists behind the attacks were Muslims, that all Muslims in our country would face discrimination because they “looked like the enemy,” just like what happen to Japanese-Americans during WWII. Overall I think our country learned from our mistakes ... Arab-Americans were not sent to internment camps. But still, it’s not perfect and unfortunately there are some ignorant people in our country who still think that all Muslims are terrorists. And that’s wrong.

Zenimura Featured on the Infinite Baseball Card Set

Kenichi Zenimura is featured on the Infinite Baseball Card Set blog for May 2011 in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Artist Gary Cieradkowski describes the Infinite Baseball Card Set, "There is no complete set, it will go on forever, each card representing a unique and interesting baseball player ... I am going to create all the cards I wanted when I was kid, and share some knowledge and stories from baseball's forgotten corners."

Check it out.


A field of dreams at internment camp, by Richard Ruelas, the Arizona Republic

Ken Zenimura was crazy about baseball. Even after the government, which feared Japanese-Americans couldn't be trusted during World War II, forcibly relocated him from Fresno, Calif., to a camp in the desert 50 miles southwest of Phoenix, he had baseball on his mind. Zenimura was among 120,000 Japanese-Americans who were forced into 10 incarceration camps in the western United States and Arkansas in 1942.
Read more.

Zenimura biography named official Arizona Centennial Legacy Project

The forthcoming book "Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer" (McFarland, 2011) has been designated an official Arizona Centennial Legacy Project by the Arizona Historical Advisory Commission (AHAC), pursuant to the rights and responsibilities assigned to that commission by the Arizona Legislature. Learn more at http://www.azcentennial.gov.