Japanese Heritage Night at Nat Bailey Stadium
Within the Vancouver Japanese Canadian community, the Asahi baseball team is legendary. Established in 1914 by Harry Miyasaki, who was determined to build a team that could be competitive with the senior baseball teams in the Province, the Asahi soon became the toast of the community. Recognizing that he needed an edge in order to compete, he emphasized ‘smart ball’, which used speed, bunts, and stolen bases to complement their hitting and pitching. Miyasaki ‘s vision was fulfilled in 1926 when they won their first Terminal League Championship against bigger and more powerful Caucasian teams. Faced with racism, discrimination and financial hardship in their daily lives, come game day it was a different story. On the baseball field the rules were fairly applied and the umpiring was generally fair, so the Asahi’s were able to play on a level playing field. That first championship proved to be a harbinger of greater things and the team won many more championships in the years leading up to 1941 when the Second World War and the forced removal of the Japanese Canadians from the west coast broke up the Asahi baseball team. Despite being dispersed, the former Asahi players continued to play and coach baseball in the internment camps and in their new home towns after the war.
Although the Asahi were the best-known of the Japanese Canadian teams, there were many others up and down the west coast that provided Japanese Canadians—both players and fans—with much-needed recreation and enjoyment.
Baseball in Japan also has a long history. It is extremely popular throughout the country and has produced many outstanding ballplayers, several of whom have been recruited by American major league teams. These days it is not unusual to hear about the exploits of Japanese ballplayers such as Daisuke Matsuzaka (Dice-K) and Ichiro Suzuki in the same breath as other stars like Roy Halladay and Jason Bay.
In Vancouver, we have our own local team to cheer for. The Vancouver Canadians have always been popular with sports fans in Vancouver and the current owners have spruced up the venerable Nat Bailey Stadium, making it even more comfortable and inviting, while still able to retain its title as the prettiest little stadium in baseball. The Vancouver Canadians have had a few Japanese players on their roster including Lenn Sakata and Kurt Suzuki, who is currently with the Oakland A’s.
They also have a few Japanese staff and interns including Teppei Fujino. Teppei played baseball in Japan for many years and decided that he would like to stay involved with the sport, if not as a player then as a staff member. He joined the Canadians last year as an intern and although he returned to Japan at the end of last season, was asked by the Canadians to return to a paid staff position for 2009 as part of the grounds crew as well as working in community relations. Talking with Teppei, one cannot help but catch his enthusiasm for baseball and for the Canadians, making him a perfect ambassador for the team.
The Canadians have continued to enhance and expand their collaboration with the local community in an effort to make baseball accessible to as many fans as possible. On Monday, August 3rd at 7:05pm, Japanese and Canadian baseball will come together at Japanese Heritage Night at Vancouver’s Nat Bailey Stadium. This special event, sponsored by the Vancouver Canadians, will feature a game between the Vancouver Canadians and the Yakima Bears. Doors open at 6pm and the evening will feature many Japanese and Japanese Canadian-related activities including booths featuring Japanese toys such as origami and kendame (cup and ball), a Vancouver Asahi photo exhibit, sushi eating contest, watermelon breaking contest (suika-wari), and staff in traditional Japanese clothing. Fans can also enjoy sushi at the permanent Japanese food kiosk.
Japanese Heritage Night, which is supported in part by the Consul General of Japan, National Nikkei Museum and Heritage Centre, National Association of Japanese Canadians, Powell Street Festival Society and Vancouver Japanese Language School, is a wonderful opportunity for fans to enjoy some of the antics and excitement that occur during Japanese baseball games. In a nice touch, the opening pitch will be thrown by former Vancouver Asahi player Kaye Kaminishi
Come out to support your Vancouver Canadians on Japanese Heritage Night and have fun:
versus the Yakima Bears
Monday, August 3, 2009
7:05 pm (gates open at 6pm)
Nat Bailey Stadium
4601 Ontario Street, Vancouver
If you require more information, please contact Teppei Fujino, the Japanese Heritage Night Coordinator by phone at 604.722.6138 or email at email@example.com
Baseball fans who want to take part in a fun community baseball game are also invited to participate in the fourth annual Powell Street Festival baseball game the day before on Sunday, August 2 at Woodland Park, just prior to the second day of the Festival. The game, co-sponsored by the Japanese Canadian National Museum and Carnegie Community Centre, celebrates the Vancouver Asahi baseball team’s legacy and is a chance for Nikkei baseball enthusiasts and Asahi fans to play a fun game while paying tribute to the team that once played at PSF’s traditional home at Oppenheimer Park. Please contact the Japanese Canadian National Museum for more information or to sign up to play. Join in the fun at this free public event, or just come and watch! Youth, adults, seniors and families are all welcome.
PSF Baseball Game
Sunday, 10:30am, Woodland Park
Contact Japanese Canadian National Museum
firstname.lastname@example.org or 604.777.7000 ext. 109
In his Own Words
Tell me a little about your background please Teppei.
I was born and grew up in Yokohama, which is a sister city to Vancouver. I have played baseball since I was seven years old because baseball is very popular in my city. Daisuke Matsuzaka, the present Red Sox pitcher and World Baseball Classic MVP, graduated from a Yokohama high school in my city.
Have you always been interested in baseball?
Yes, but although I like to play and watch baseball, I am not only interested in baseball. I mean if I do have a choice, I will definitely choose baseball because I am more familiar with baseball than other sports. But I like to watch all other sports including football, basketball and hockey.
Were you involved in baseball in Japan?
I used to play baseball in Japan and was a catcher on my team. I also played baseball in an American collegiate summer league in 2004 and this experience had a great influence on my career. I saw how the owner ran our team, and some interns, almost all of them college students, helped our team be successful on the business side.
How did you come to be working for the Vancouver Canadians?
I came here as part of a project which a Japanese organization launched called the “Hoshino Dreams Project.” It was started by Senichi Hoshino, a former baseball player and manager who had a dream of a system of developing sports in Japan through internships with professional or semi-professional teams in North America (www.hoshinodreams.com/english/index.html). They sent me to Vancouver to intern with the Canadians, to learn how to manage professional sports teams and bring people to the stadium efficiently.
You’re a baseball fan who is now working with a baseball team – that must be exciting. What is your role with the Vancouver Canadians, and what is your favourite part of working for the team?
My job this year is on the Grounds Crew. Almost every day I cut the grass, water it and drag the field to make it look good for the fans coming to Nat Bailey Stadium. People who are not involved in the sports industry ask me what I do all day, every day. They don’t know how much we care for the field. The field has to look good as well as be a good, safe playing surface for the players.
My favourite part of the job is that I do Japanese community outreach. I feel the Vancouver Canadians are not popular enough within the Japanese and Japanese Canadian communities in Vancouver. This was a shock to me, since Japanese people traditionally love baseball and there is such a large Japanese community in this city. I want to inform them of the Vancouver Canadians and bring them to Nat Bailey stadium. I definitely think they will like our ball game and have a fun time. So that’s my favourite part of the job!
Baseball is very popular in Japan . . . why do you think that is?
This is a very interesting question. I have no idea why baseball is so popular in my country, actually. But if I had to guess, I think it would be affected by two major newspaper companies, the Asahi and Yomiuri. Asahi held the high school national championship for baseball to increase a circulation of their newspaper. Baseball was a great news item Japan in the 1900s. At the same time, Yomiuri launched a Japanese professional baseball league to increase their circulation. So I think the present popularity of baseball in Japan is due to the competition between two major media companies.
Do most Japanese players dream of playing in North America, or are players happy to play in Japan?
I think it depends on the player’s goal. These days, although it is easy for all Japanese professional ball players to transfer to a team in North America, some players want to stay Japan, like Yu Darvish. He is half Iranian and half Japanese. He grew up Japan and has played in Japan since he started to play baseball. He thinks we need some star players in the Japanese professional baseball league for people, especially kids, to look up to. If all players left Japan, why would the fans keep watching? He doesn’t want to play in the MLB because he does not want Japan to lose a star player. That’s why I think it depends on players’ aim and surroundings.
Do you follow Major League Baseball in North America. What is your favourite team? Who is our favourite MLB Japanese-born player?
My favourite team is the Atlanta Braves. I don’t know why, but they are. I think it’s because they have cool jerseys.
My favourite player is Hideo Nomo. He was a pioneer and paved the road to the MLB for Japanese baseball players. I doubt Ichiro would be in the MLB right now if it was not for Nomo’s success
I guess you were rooting for Japan at the World Baseball Classic!
Of course, I did!! I was screaming at my house when I saw Japan beat South Korea in the final!
Tell me about the Japanese Heritage Night. How did the idea come up?
Japanese Heritage Night is a theme and community night. This idea came to me when I was thinking of how to bring Japanese and Japanese Canadian people to the stadium. As you know most Japanese people do like baseball. For Japanese Canadian people, baseball is kind of a special matter because of the Asahi and the history of that team. I want to let Japanese people know about the Asahi baseball team that has such history in this city and at the same time let people know about the Canadians.
What do you think of Canada?
Awesome!! There are beautiful mountains, beaches, sports and so much more. I like it here. The people are so kind and generous. There are so many majestic natures here. I also like the way people spend their holidays by biking, boating, camping, etc… Although I think it may be difficult for baseball to root its popularity in this city because of hockey, I still feel that this is the best place to live in the world.