British Columbia

Kaye Kaminishi, 1939 Asahi rookie, at tribute baseball game

A small softball tournament in Vancouver Saturday marked a sporting milestone — the Asahi tribute game taking pace 100 yers after the legendary Japanese-Canadian team was first formed.

Japanese-Canadian league formed 100 years ago

Kaye Kaminishi, a 1939 Asahi baseball team rookie, throws out the first pitch in a tribute game commemorating the Japanese-Canadian team formed 100 years ago. (CBC)

A small softball tournament in Vancouver Saturday marked a sporting milestone — the Asahi tribute game taking pace 100 years after the legendary Japanese-Canadian team was formed.

Shortly after throwing the first pitch in a Vancouver tribute game, Kaye Kaminishi, reminisced on the wide sweep of history encompassed by this game which on Saturday was played mostly for fun. 
100 years after the league was first formed, an offer was extended to anyone who wanted to participate to play in Saturday's tribute game. (CBC)
Kaminishi says in the early years, the team was talented and it was difficult to make the line-up.

The Asahi were a powerhouse on the West Coast through the 1930's.

Nichola Ogiwara with the Nikkei National Museum says their opposition often towered over them physically so they developed a style all their own.

"Typically Japanese-Canadians were shorter. They were five-feet-something compared to the Caucasians, so they're famous for their brainball tactics, like bunting and squeeze,"she said. "And they won the championships!".

Discrimination killed team

But talent and tactics were no match for discriminatory laws.

Kaminishi was born in Canada, but as a Japanese-Canadian he wasn't allowed to vote and most jobs were closed to him.

With the Second World War, the situation worsened. Japanese-Canadians were removed from their homes and placed in internment camps. The Asahi were shut down only managing the odd pick-up game against nearby local teams.

After the war and under pressure to leave the West Coast, the Asahi never played again.
An Asahi baseball game from Kaye Kaminishi's early days with the team. (CBC)
But now, a century later, the name adorns baseball shirts as part of the tribute series. For Kaminishi, it's a rewarding chapter in what has been a long and sometimes difficult story. 

"I'm really happy to see this because still somebody remembers us, our team," he said. I'm really happy, especially like this, kids and everybody playing each other." 

Kaminishi is the tournament celebrity and one of the few surviving members of the original team.

Saturday's tribute game was a chance for anyone who stopped by to join the players in a game, wear the name, have some fun and remember how players like Kaminishi ran around the bases and into history.

With files from the CBC's Tim Weekes