Don Wakamatsu, JA Pioneer

Posted in Community by minoroots on 11/19/2008

Today, Don Wakamatsu was named manager of the Seattle Mariners, becoming the first Asian-American manager in major league baseball. He was previously a bench coach for the Oakland A’s, and was also with the Texas Rangers for five years before that.

He was a 3rd base coach with the Texas Rangers in 2007 (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

He was a 3rd base coach with the Texas Rangers in 2007 (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

I think this is great for the representation of the JA community, as well as the greater Asian-American community. But to be honest with you, I’ve never heard of Don Wakamatsu before today. I did a little research on him and found out he’s a half-Irish yonsei hapa, originally from Hayward in Norcal.

From Nichi Bei Times:

A three-sport star at Hayward High School in the East Bay, the Yonsei Wakamatsu was a member of the school’s baseball, football and basketball teams.


After starting his collegiate career at Arizona State University — where he earned All-Pacific 10 Conference honors in each of his last three seasons — the catcher was eventually selected in the 11th round of the 1985 amateur draft by the Cincinnati Reds.


And while his major league baseball playing career was over in a flash — he had merely 31 at-bats over 13 games in the 1991 season for the Chicago White Sox — he made a name for himself as a coach, first in the minors and then in the majors.

In 1998, in fact, he was named “Manager of the Year” for the California League, as the head skipper of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Single-A minor league team.

I wasn’t really sure if he was the type that identifies strongly with the JA and API consciousness, but judging from this interview, he seems to have a genuine link to and involvement with some of the history:

But the recognition of his cultural identity also has a serious undertone. His father was born in the Tule Lake concentration camp near the Oregon border in California, while his grandparents — who were incarcerated in the Tule Lake and Jerome, Arkansas concentration camps — still live in Hood River, Oregon, the city of Wakamatsu’s birth.

He spoke to his grandparents last year about their camp experience, yearning for more knowledge about their wartime struggles as part of some 120,000 persons of Japanese descent forcibly relocated from the West Coast during World War II and herded into desolate detention camps.

“I want my children to understand the sacrifices they went through,” he said.

I’ve read a few message boards indicating that he had played J-league baseball and basketball, and had been an active part of the JA community in the Bay Area during his time with the A’s. In the Seattle Mariners’ news conference earlier today, I think you can tell that Don Wakamatsu does strongly identify with the Asian American community:

From ESPN:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

“I’m proud to represent some of what they went through in their lifetime,” Wakamatsu said. “If I can set a future stepping stone for Japanese-Americans and just the equality in baseball, I’m glad to bear that torch.”

Congratulations to Don Wakamatsu and I wish him all the best.


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