LODI, Calif. — Masato “Mauch” Yamashita, a veteran of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team who served as the longtime manager of the Lodi Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) baseball team and had a local baseball field named after him, died on Dec. 7, 2011 from complications following a heart attack, sources said. He was 86.
“We just lost a Japanese American baseball legend,” said Mike Furutani, a sports reporter at KSBW-TV in Salinas, Calif. who played under Yamashita in the Northern California Japanese American Baseball League’s Lodi JACL team.
“Historically in California, Mauch was the only living Nisei pioneer to have a field named after him,” said Kerry Yo Nakagawa, director of the Fresno, Calif.-based Nisei Baseball Research Project, in an e-mail to the Nichi Bei Weekly.
According to Nakagawa, other fields named after Nisei figures are Cesar Uyesaka Stadium on the campus of University of California at Santa Barbara, and those named after Lou Tsunekawa in Stockton, Calif. and Shig Tokumoto in Hanford, Calif.
A lifelong resident of Lodi, located south of Sacramento, Yamashita graduated from Rohwer High School while he was imprisoned in the Rohwer, Ark. concentration camp during World War II, his obituary in the Lodi Sentinel said.
He joined the U.S. Army during his incarceration, and served in the highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team, whose members were recently awarded the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal in Washington, D.C.
He also earned a Purple Heart.
After the war, he returned to Lodi and in 1961 purchased Pine Auto Parts with his business partner Will Kagawa.
Yamashita played on the Lodi JACL baseball team before the war, and continued to coach, manage and sponsor the team in subsequent years.
“Mauch sponsored the team and never asked for money from the players — he was a true class act and he lived and breathed baseball to the end,” recalled Furutani in an e-mail to the Nichi Bei Weekly. “Even into his 80s he traveled with the team to every game including road trips to Fresno and Los Angeles. I can’t say enough how much I and the many, many generations of ballplayers have benefitted from Mauch’s generosity and kindness.”
In honor of his contributions to the sport, the City of Lodi dedicated “Masato ‘Mauch’ Yamashita Field” at Kofu Park in 2002. The park itself is named after Lodi’s sister city in Japan.
According to his obituary in the Lodi Sentinel, Yamashita was a member of the Lodi Buddhist Church, the JACL and the Nisei VFW Post No. 8985 in Sacramento. He was also an honorary member of the Mokuyo-Kai Golf Club in Lodi.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Dec. 17, 1 p.m., at the Lodi Buddhist Church, 23 N. Stockton St. in Lodi.