KEEPING POSTED: Mauch Yamashita, Nisei baseball legend, passes away

It was the end of a unique, remarkable sporting era for California’s colorful, historic Japanese American baseball world. A sad day, when one of its cherished, most popular diamond assets — Masato “Mauch” Yamashita — suddenly passed away Dec. 7, 2011.
Mauch Yamashita, 88, died at Lodi Memorial Hospital, following a heart attack.

A native Lodian, he was in the retail automotive business — Pine Auto Supply. The familiar Lodi Avenue store, besides selling the usual bread and butter merchandise like car batteries and spark plugs, to no surprise, also turned into a popular headquarter — not only for Grape-land, but for the Golden State’s far-flung JA baseball activities as well.

Mauch Yamashita. file photo

The well-known Nisei sports figure was a veteran of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team — the celebrated all-Japanese American World War II fighting unit — that made a legendary name in the European battle campaign.

Returning to Lodi in the verdant Northern San Joaquin Valley between Sacramento and Stockton, Mauch Yamashita’s store, in due time, was to turn into THE place for all kinds of Nikkei news of any importance or consequence. It was more than just baseball for that part of the famed Northern California agricultural region.

Of course, as a retailing auto entrepreneur, he saw to it that the many vehicles purred smoothly in and around the burg and through the neighboring verdant vineyards and orchards. Otherwise, Mauch’s major interest and project away from the shop on the west-end of the town was naturally with his personal national pastime, passionately mixing the proverbial hickory bats and balls for the Lodi Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) horsehiders.

His team was a familiar aggregation in the Northern California baseball circle and was a perennial representative to the annual California State North and South diamond tournaments — pitting the bet JA nine from the Los Angeles area.

“He’s been with the team year in and year out, more than 60 years,” said Bobby Umemoto, manager of the Li’l Tokyo Giants and Nisei Athletic Union (NAU) board member. “He always had a smile. I’m sad to see him go,” Umemoto commented in the Los Angeles-based Rafu Shimpo.

Of course, in writing about Los Angeles-area JA baseball — one of the historic intra-state series — automatically recalls the legendary battles between the San Pedro Skippers and the Lodi Templars before the war.

The vaunted star-ladened Skippers, signing some of the better Nikkei players in the Southland, played out of Terminal Island — a unique Japanese fishing industry village, adjacent to the busy Los Angeles harbor area. Financed by the influential Issei tuna-fishing industry money, the powerful Skippers attracted some of the better Nisei horsehiders in the LA area — that included varsity college players.

Mauch Yamashita began playing for his native Lodi team in 1939, but his team was disbanded following Pearl Harbor, when he was a junior at Lodi High School and was sent to a federal government-operated relocation center in Rohwer, Ark. — along the winding Mississippi River Delta. He continued to play ball in camp, that ironically included inter-camp match with nearby Jerome WRA aggregations — located some 30 miles away — until he was drafted into army service.

Following his tour of duty with the 442nd, Mauch returned to Grape-ville and resumed his National Pastime avocation and career. Mas Okuhara, another prominent Lodi baseball figure, asked him to become the town’s player-coach during the 1950s.

Even in the 80s, Mauch managed and traveled with the team to every game — including road trips to Fresno and Los Angeles.

Mike Furutani, a sports reporter with KSBW-TV in Salinas and a former Lodi JACL and San Francisco Hawks player wrote to the Rafu, “I can’t say enough about how I and the many, many generations of ball players have benefited from Mauch’s generosity and kindness.”

Furutani described Yamashita as one of the last of his generation of ball players and recalled the legendary but always friendly rivalry he had with Florin AC manager Jim Tsukamoto.

In 2002, the City of Lodi dedicated a baseball field in Yamashita’s honor at Kofu Park, named for Lodi’s Sister City in Japan. At the dedication, a Lodi Park and Recreation official said, “The naming of this ball field as Masato Mauch Yamashita Field, represents our admiration of his personal efforts with a team that has represented Lodi over the decades and honors the many players and assistant coaches that have been a part of this organization.”

Services for Mauch Yamashita were held Dec. 17 at the Buddhist Church of Lodi. And of course to no surprise, the over-flowing attendance from all-walks of life in this conservative, tightly-knit ag-oriented community, jammed the sanctuary and over-flowed down into the temple’s basement.

A Nisei originally form Lodi, Fred Oshima now writes from Salinas, Calif.

Comments

  1. Nice article on a Lodi Legend. Also, nice to see Mr. Oshima’s writings in the Nichi Bei. I missed his ramblings about the ol’ days. As a yonsei, I can only imagine what the nisei generation did and so it is very enlightening to read articles by Mr. Oshima which recall the golden era days of the Nisei in so much detail. Thank you mr. Oshima!

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