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Alameda's Japanese-American Baseball Legacy

"ATK took pride in calling island its baseball home" (by Win Currier. This article was originally printed in the Alameda Time Star "Alameda Sports Legends" Special Edition, July 1991.)

Japanese baseball leagues flourished until World War II

An aged and faded photo shows Hisaki Hayashi warming up his arm for a baseball game. In the background are Clipper Ships of the Alaska Packers tied up in the estuary. The picture was taken in the late 1920's or early 1930's as Hayashi was enjoying another pleasant Sunday of competitive baseball for the Alameda Tai Kukai, the local Japanese team which competed primarily against other Japanese teams and also against college teams visiting from Japan.

Pacific Avenue resident Mas (Fred) Nakano, who played for the team for many years, explains that Alameda Taiiku translates as Alameda Athletic Club. And it was the ATK Diamond by which the field came to be officially known. Locally, the reference was the "Jap Diamond". Nobody took offense at the terminology then. With the estuary behind it, the field was on the northwest corner of Walnut Street at Clement Avenue. The land was owned by James Rolph, then mayor of San Francisco. He allowed the Japanese team to use the land rent-free after the team's original playing area at McKinley Park became to small with the park's addition of tennis courts. Japanese men built the field themselves. Graded it, tended it. Put up grandstand areas down the baselines. And every Sunday, they played baseball.

Hisaki Hayashi and his wife, Chitose, owned the Tokyo Cleaners at Park Street and Pacific Avenue. Chitose,who died in 1988, would stay in the store, which took in laundry in addition to cleaning. She'd do seamstress work, too, while her husband, who died in 1970, worked every day at a variety of jobs. "He had to work a lot to take care of four sons and a daughter", explains his son Arthur (Tadashi) Hayashi. Tad Hayashi remembers that every spring all the men would go down to the field and cut down the weeds. "Most of them were gardeners so they had the equipment", noted Tad, who is the older of the four Hayashi boys.

Mas Nakano remembers the elder Hayashi as a "very good coach or teacher to young players". "He really knew the game", Mas said. Tad Hayashi recalls when he was "5 or 6, my dad had me out playing catch". He went on to play seven days a week. "I'd practice or play games for Alameda High on Monday through Friday, play Legion ball on Saturday and for ATK on Sundays", said Tad, who was a pitcher on teams coached by Carl Young and Hal Eifert.

Some were even more dedicated to ATK. "I played third base, mostly, and also pitched

some", said Shizuto Kawamura, a pioneer of the team who was born in 1906 and still lives on Pacific Avenue. "I didn't go out for high school ball, so I could play ATK. I started with the team when I was 15 (in 1921) and played through 1929 when I graduated from the University of California. "Then I played three more years, but gave it up. Getting too old I guess". After the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans,"Shiz" retired in New York and came back to Alameda.

Also back in Alameda, after retiring from working with the Internal Revenue Service in Dallas, is Shug Madokoro, who is now a Harbor Bay Isle resident. Mas' brother, Mike, lives on Webster Street. Madokoro recalls that the first team wore a big letter "A" on its uniform. "The ATK came later", he said. "I guess we were just called the Alameda ball club then. I remember Oakland had a good team, but I never thought they were as good as us. We had some of the Oakland players come over with us later, though. We played in the Northern Division group, which I think extended down to Fresno. Then there were other teams in Southern California". Mas Nakano remembers that the top teams (in addition to ATK) were the San Jose Asahi, Stockton Yamato and teams from Fresno and Sacramento. Other cities had teams, too, but these were the best.

The all-dirt but immaculately maintained field was bordered by Baxter Lumber Company, where telephone poles were treated and stored. Batters would hit toward the estuary and Tad Hayashi remembers someone down the third base line by the name of Mr. Abe. "I don't remember his first name but he had a stand where you could buy candy, soft drinks, and cigarettes", he said. The team would pay expenses by passing the hat and by various fundraisers. "We had a large Japanese community extending from Foley Street to Walnut from Santa Clara Avenue to the Estuary", Hayashi said. "They all showed outstanding support in the Japanese community and filled the stands every Sunday". Games were mostly low scoring thanks, in part, to a fast-balling left-handed pitcher named Ben Tanizawa, who now lives in the Mt. Eden area of Hayward. Mas Nakano remembers him as a "very deliberate pitcher"...meaning he was in no hurry to get the job done.

Harry Kono had bought the Hayashi Florists (no relation to the other Hayashi family) and managed the team. Hayashi Florist was located where Towata Florists is situated, virtually unchanged, at Oak Street and Santa Clara Avenue. Dick Towata was an outstanding shortstop for the original ATK team and brother John, who owns Towata Florists and is a former member of the Alameda Recreation and Park Commission, also played baseball but not for ATK. Taro Takeda was also an outstanding hitter and Sam Okitani, who was wounded in World War II and now lives in Arkansas, could hit as well. College teams came over from Japan---Keio and Waszda. University of Tokyo came over and so did the Tokyo Giants, who played against an all-star Japanese team at the Oakland Ball Park in Emeryville.

When Kono assembled an all-star team to go to Japan in 1937, Mas Nakano recalls they had Alameda Players Kiyo Nogami, a shortstop who played at the University of California, catcher Tut Iwahashi and pitcher Tanizawa. "I was picked for the team, but came down sick so I couldn't go", Nakano added. Nakano, who was in Chicago when he decided to be known as Fred---a name he kept when he became a florist in the Montclair district of Oakland---was a third baseman. His brother Mike was a first baseman. Caucasian players from Alameda also went on that trip. Nick Carter, Alex White, and Al Brown were recalled by longtime Alameda semi-pro player Frank McCormick as part of that team.

When did the era end? Nobody seems to know exactly. The interest seemed to die in the late 30's. Then came the war. Tad Hayashi remembers when Japanese, Germans, and Italians were officially described as "enemy aliens" and first ordered to turn in radios with shortwave bands, cameras and weapons. "I took my father's three beatup cameras and turned them in at the police department", Hayashi said. "You know, when my father came back, he went in and they were waiting for him". He was first taken to Tanforan in April of 1942, then we went to Utah. "They asked for volunteers for the service, but I passed that up, got a permanent pass which meant we could go any place except the West Coast", he said, "I went to Detroit...and got drafted. "A Japanese sergeant asked me to read some symbols, I did, and went to Army Language School with some others. The rest of our unit was sent to Italy. I ended up with the occupation forces and so it was my first visit to the old country".

The memories of that, of his Alameda and Japanese heritage intertwined, have prompted Hayashi to make a move to write of those times "so the children and grandchildren can learn how it was". "Maybe some of us are ashamed of the internment, I don't know", he said. "But I think the future generations should know about it".