Thursday, January 16, 2014

The story of a remarkable man

During my almost 14 years at the Kamloops Daily News, I met many memorable people, none moreso than Kaye Kaminishi. . . . I visited his home in June 2003, planning on writing one short story. I was so taken with him and his story, that plans were changed. . . . Here are the stories that appeared in The Daily News on June 20 and 21, 2003. This is the story of a really remarkable man.

Daily News Sports Editor
It was May of 1941 and Kaye Kaminishi couldn't have asked for his life to be much better.
Born and raised in Vancouver, he was 19 years of age and a third baseman with the Asahi, a baseball team that was the pride of what was known as Little Tokyo.
If you were a Canadian youngster of Japanese descent, the Asahi, which means morning sun, was THE baseball team. As a youngster, Kaminishi wanted only one thing and that was to play for Asahi.
"They were the Yankees," Kaminishi says as he sits in his Sahali home on what is a warm summer day.
Florence, his wife of more than 50 years, is nearby as her husband reminisces and looks forward to June 28 when the Asahi will be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in St. Marys, Ont.
More than 60 years have passed since Kaminishi, then 17, first played for the Asahi in the 1939 season. Today, at the age of 81, his eyes dance as the memories of his three seasons with the Asahi come alive.
"When I got the uniform, I couldn't sleep all night," he says. "I was so proud and so happy. That was the team. I dreamed to get into Asahi. That was my dream. In those days, all the young kids dreamed to get into the Asahi baseball club. That was a dream."
Most of the other Asahi players, he says, were between 25 and 30; some had been there for seven or eight years. The Asahi won the Pacific Northwest championship in each of Kaminishi's three seasons.
Kaminishi's baseball career actually started in the Vancouver Buddhist Church League at the age of 13. He says he played there for "two or three years" and then "went up to the Japanese League" for another "two or three years."
But why baseball? What would draw a child of Japanese ancestry to baseball in Vancouver in the 1930s?
"That's a Japanese sport," Kaminishi explains and the smile on his face is as wide as the living room window that looks out over the city. "They're crazy about baseball. They're so noisy. That's what I don't like about it. They have bands and all. It's a big event."
In school, Kaminishi also played badminton and table tennis, "but baseball is my sport," he says, and he was always a third baseman.
"Somehow, I always played third base, even when I was a kid," he says. "Even in the Buddhist Church League, I played third base."
He's getting warmed up now. He is seated on the sofa -- actually, on the edge of the sofa. His head is tilted back. His eyes look to the ceiling but he's not seeing the ceiling. No. He's looking past it, way past it. He's seeing a young man playing the hot corner before as many as 5,000 fans at the Powell Grounds, the home field of the Asahi that now is Oppenheimer Park, located near the intersection of Main and Hastings streets, only a couple of blocks from Centennial Pier.
It was, he says, a real hot corner.
"Powell Grounds was so bad," he remembers. And he continues, in staccato-like fashion:
"Lot of pebbles. You don't know where the ball is coming from. Coach told us, 'If you can't stop it by glove, you've got to stop it with your chest.' That's pretty tough. That's what they told us all the time. Easy to say ... and you don't know which way the ball goes some times. Not like smooth ground like nowadays. You would never know which way the ball would go. It was scary sometimes. Nowadays, with the turf, they get true bounces so you know which way the ball goes."
The Asahi played a style of baseball that was called "brain ball." Today, it would be called "little ball." The Asahi players were smaller in stature than virtually all of their opponents so the home run wasn't part of their arsenal.
"We'd squeeze and bunt and steal the base," Kaminishi says. "That's the only way to get the run, eh? Games were low scoring. We'd never see over six runs in those days ... 3-2 or 3-0 ... all low scores."
In fact, they loved to squeeze with runners on second and third ... and try to score them both.
These days, Kaminishi's baseball is limited to what he sees on TV.
"The Blue Jays and Seattle," he says.
And guess what? He likes Ichiro Suzuki, the Seattle Mariners slap-hitting outfielder.
"He's quite a player, eh?" Kaminishi says of the man known simply as Ichiro.
These days Kaminishi also finds himself following the New York Yankees, what with Japanese outfielder Hideki Matsui in pinstripes.
"He's struggling a little bit," Kaminishi says. "But Ichiro ... I like Ichiro. He's all-around player, eh? He can hit and run."
Does he play like you played?
Kaminishi laughs.
"I used to do a lot of bunts," he says.
Florence describes the offensive side of her husband's game. "Speed and bunts," she says.
Even now, at 81, Kaminishi can't shake baseball. It is like a disease.
"That's right," he says. "And you can't stop it."
- - -
Kaminishi was one of 14 players on the Asahi's roster in 1941 when he and his mother boarded a passenger ship in May and headed for Hiroshima. His parents had emigrated from there; his father had died of a heart attack in 1933 at the age of 53. Kaminishi and his mother would visit with relatives and return in August. At least, that was the plan.
By leaving in May, Kaminishi missed an opportunity to be in the Asahi's 1941 team photo. Of course, he couldn't have known that it would be the Asahi's last team photo, or that the baseball team, in existence since 1914, wouldn't play another game. And he would never have believed that he wouldn't play baseball again until 1947.
"I was supposed to be coming back by the middle of August because I was still in school," Kaminishi says. "But there was no transportation at all ... because they were preparing for war. Finally, a boat came back ... it departed Japan around Oct. 15. It was the last boat to come to Vancouver, Seattle and Frisco before the war. It took about 15 days.
"That was the last boat. If I was there ... maybe I'd be dead. We were really lucky."
Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941. The U.S. responded by flattening Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atom bombs. Canada would get involved by declaring war on Japan early in 1942.
Then, in May of 1942, the Canadian government set up internment camps and relocated approximately 22,000 people of Japanese ancestry, including the entire Asahi roster. Kaminishi and his mother ended up in a camp just east of Lillooet.
The life that had been so promising -- they owned part of a lumber company; he had been living his dream with the Asahi -- came crashing to a halt. They started with something; they ended up with virtually nothing.
Kaminishi's father, who was a second son, had graduated from normal school in Japan. He taught school there for one year, decided that wasn't for him, and headed for Canada. He started in a gold field in the Cariboo, moved on to Vancouver and then over to Vancouver Island. Eventually, he would become a co-owner of a lumber company -- the Royston Lumber Co. -- that opened for business near Comox in 1917.
"It was quite a big mill," Kaminishi says. "It had a railroad system and 12 shareholders."
When his father passed away, his share, which Kaminishi says was more than 50 per cent of the Royston Lumber Co., went to his widow and son. His mother also continued to operate a rooming house in Vancouver.
In 1942, with the world at war, the Canadian government, citing national security, rounded up the issei (pioneering immigrants) and the nisei (the issei's Canadian-born children) who were living on the West Coast, seized their property and relocated them to one of eight internment camps or one of four other camps that were termed "self-supporting."
"We owned over 50 per cent and the other shareholders were Japanese," Kaminishi says of the lumber company that was sold by the government's Custodian of Enemy Property. "So the government is going to take our company ... tried to confiscate everything. They only gave us about one-third of the value.
"They sold it for $202,000.
"Take the taxes and lawyer's fees and there was nothing."
The government, however, couldn't take away their spirit.
TOMORROW: The camp, Kamloops and a hall of fame.

Daily News Sports Editor
It was early in 1942. The Second World War was well under way. Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. And there was a vibrant Japanese-Canadian community located in Vancouver.
The Canadian government, not about to take any risks, rounded up about 22,000 Japanese and Japanese-Canadian people from the Lower Mainland -- never mind that about 75 per cent of them were naturalized citizens or Canadian-born -- confiscated and auctioned their property and possessions, and moved them into the Interior.
In what has been called the greatest mass movement in Canadian history, these people were relocated to one of four "self-supporting" camps or one of eight internment camps, the latter located in Kaslo, New Denver, Tashme, Roseberry, Slocan City, Lemon Creek, Sandon and Greenwood, most of which were in the Kootenays. (Tashme was actually named after three of B.C.'s security commissioners -- Talor, Shirras and Mead.) The "self-supporting" camps, which would become home to 1,161 internees, were at Bridge River, Minto City, McGillivray Falls and Christina Lake.
Kaye Kaminishi, his mother and about 300 others were moved to Bridge River, located just east of Lillooet, in May of 1942.
Kaminishi, now a Kamloops resident, had been the third baseman for the Asahi, a popular Vancouver baseball team, the three previous summers. He says the camp was "self-supporting" -- in other words, people "had to pay our own fares" to get there and also had to "build our own shacks."
"We thought the war would last maybe a couple years ... rough lumber and tarpaper, that's it," he says, with a rueful grin.
Asked how devastating he found the situation, Kaminishi replies: "Oh, gee. There was no water there, no electricity there ... so we had to carry the water from the Fraser River. We had to make an outdoor toilet. In those days it was hot and cold, 20-30 below in the winter, 95-100 in summer.
"So hot and so cold," he adds and he's rubbing his arms. "By the morning ... winter morning ... ice was forming inside. We had a stove but ..."
To make matters worse, Kaminishi says, the movements of the people in the camp were limited.
"We cannot go to the town site," he says. "There's a bridge there and we cannot cross the bridge to go downtown for a couple years."
At the same time, though, Kaminishi managed to feel some sympathy for the citizens of Lillooet. Even in his circumstances, he says, he could feel for those folks.
Japan had just bombed Pearl Harbor, he says, and "the people in Lillooet ... no see Japanese before. They were scared." Imagine their shock when it was discovered that these Japanese people all spoke English. The memory of that brings a smile to his face.
Eventually, the barricades came down and the internees were allowed into the downtown area. Kaminishi smiles and says: "We all paid with cash. Here comes 300 Japanese and they all pay with cash. Ohhh, they're all after us. Come on, come on, come on. The economy was booming."
The people in the camp, it turns out, had access to an old softball diamond so that became their game of choice. The RCMP, according to Kaminishi, would appear "once a month to check on the older people."
So Kaminishi took it upon himself to talk the police into a series of games.
"Let's have exhibition game," he says he told one officer. "We go downtown one week, then you come here. We live in Canada. Why segregation?"
Asked if he is bitter, or if he was bitter, Kaminishi, who was 19 when he first set foot in the camp, looks to the sky. His eyes draw tight. He says his understanding came from his mother who told him: "You've got to obey the government ... what the government rules are."
"But," he says, and this is as close as he'll come to admitting to any bitterness, "especially the older people suffered."
His biggest pain came from losing baseball, from losing the Asahi. How much did it hurt?
"I just can't describe myself," he says and, again, his eyes show pain. "I was crazy about baseball. You know?"
(In 1988, the Canadian government of then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney offered a formal apology for what was perhaps the greatest miscarriage of justice in Canadian history. Each of the survivors of the camps was given $21,000 in redress money, something that hardly compensated those people for all that had been taken away and all that had been lost.
As Kaminishi told Andrew Duffy of the Ottawa Citizen earlier this year: "I lost my prime baseball years to the war.")
- - -
The war would end and it would be time to move on. Kaminishi decided to rekindle his love affair with baseball.
"I heard Kamloops had a baseball team," he says, "so I came to Kamloops. I wanted to play baseball."
It was 1947. Kaminishi would play five seasons here, starting with the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) and, after it folded, finishing up with the Elks.
By now, he has pulled out a scrapbook and he points with obvious pride to a clipping that details a triple play. It was, according to the newspaper, the "first triple play in Kamloops organized baseball."
It was in 1951 or 1952 and took place at Riverside Park, where the band shell now is located. A couple of thousand people would show up there on Sunday afternoons to watch baseball games.
On this particular Sunday, there were runners on first and second -- their names weren't included in the story -- and Kaminishi was playing third base.
"I saw the third base coach tug an ear," Kaminishi says. "I sneak up about halfway to the plate. By gawd ... it's a bunt. It comes in my glove, right in my glove. I throw it to first, the first baseman throws it to second, easy triple play."
Kaminishi to Larry Candido to Billy Marriott and Kamloops had its first triple play.
"It was something," Kaminishi says while he flashes a smile like you just know he used to flash leather.
He remembers traveling by train to tournaments. To places like Lloydminster and Edmonton.
"We lost two games (to Edmonton)," Kaminishi says. "The Warwick brothers were playing. All the good hockey players were playing and we lost two games. Our manager ... he hired a couple more good players from someplace else and we beat Edmonton."
He laughs at the memory.
He laughs again when he remembers going on road trips and getting "25 cents for lunch money."
He remembers winning a championship in Revelstoke and riding the train back to Kamloops. Oh, he says, there was some party going on in the baggage car that night.
There wasn't a retirement party when his career ended. As Florence, his wife of more than 50 years, says, "He just went."
Kaminishi had met Florence during a sojourn into the southern Interior. She was from Winfield and was working in an orchard near Oyama. It was a meeting, Kaye says, that turned into a relationship after a lot of work by a go-between because, well, that's how things were done in those days.
After his baseball career ended, the Kaminishis got into the motel business. Florence, Kaye and his mother purchased a place in Hope in 1953. They were there for seven years.
"We came back again and bought a motel in Kamloops ... the Mayfair Motel in Valleyview," Kaminishi says. "It's not there any more. Now there's a church on the property."
The last 15 years of his working life were spent in a government liquor store.
"I retired about 15 years ago," he says, adding that his mother died in 1990.
- - -
And then, last fall, there was a phone call. It took him back to the day when he first got his Asahi uniform. This time a voice was telling him that the Asahi would be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on June 28.
"Again, I couldn't sleep that night," he says.
"I'm overwhelmed. I'm looking forward to Toronto but I'm still dreaming. I can't believe that we'll be at the hall of fame. We don't get any money or anything. End of the season they maybe give us a jacket or sweater or something. We were only amateurs."
On top of all this, a National Film Board documentary has been made -- Sleeping Tigers: The Asahi Baseball Story.
Kaminishi says a lot of memories came flooding back when he saw the film. It was, he says, "Pretty sad -- a lot of veteran players who passed away."
There are believed to be 10 former Asahi players still living. Of the 11 players in the 1941 team photo, four are still with us. There have been a couple of earlier reunions but Kaminishi wasn't able to attend. He missed one because he had just started work at a liquor store and couldn't get time off. He missed another one because he had just undergone colon surgery.
"I wasn't strong enough," he says.
He was strong enough -- you bet he was -- to go to Toronto for a screening of the film, where he and Florence were able to renew relationships with, among others, Ken Kutsukake, who played on that 1941 team and now lives in Toronto.
"He's 92," Florence says, with something of a playful grimace, "and -- gee -- he drove us all around Toronto."
Jim Fukui, another player off the 1941 team, lives in Vancouver, Kaye says, "and he's 85 or 86."
There have also been interviews. There have been stories in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and the Toronto Sun. A writer from the Toronto Star has made arrangements to come for a visit.
"I'm the youngest so everybody comes to me," Kaminishi says with a chuckle.
The Asahi will be inducted into the hall of fame alongside Richard Belec, a longtime amateur baseball official in Quebec; former Toronto Blue Jays star Joe Carter, who once ended a World Series with the most dramatic home run in our country's baseball history; and, former major league pitcher Kirk McCaskill.
Joining Florence and Kaye will be their son Ed, who lives in Calgary, and their daughter Joyce Shimokura, her husband Roy and their son Kenny, 14, who live in Burnaby.
- - -
And when it's all over, when the induction ceremonies are done with, after Kaminishi has looked Carter in the eye as a fellow hall of famer, the Kaminishis will return home and Kaye will begin preparations for a 13th trip to the B.C. Senior Games.
These days, you see, he's a badminton player.
"I've got about 25 medals," he says, pointing to a display on a wall. "I used to play singles and doubles and mixed doubles. Now I just play mixed doubles.
"I'm taking it easy."
And all the while he'll wonder why the baseball gods have conspired, after all these years, to put him in the spotlight.
"This happened to me 60 years ago," he says, and there is more than a touch of bewilderment in his voice. "Sports was really good to me."

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