Seattle Nikkei community welcomes Mariners’ Iwakuma

Hisashi Iwakuma photo by Frank Abe

Hisashi Iwakuma photo by Frank Abe

SEATTLE — The local Japanese American community turned out April 14 to welcome the Mariners’ number-two starter, Hisashi Iwakuma, to Seattle. Nearly 200 people filled the main hall of the Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington to meet the former Nippon Professional Baseball star.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn praised Iwakuma’s fundraising work for Japanese earthquake and tsunami survivors, and I presented a proclamation on behalf of King County Executive Dow Constantine declaring that Sunday as “Hisashi Iwakuma Day.”

In his Major League debut last year, Iwakuma compiled an impressive 9-5 record after being promoted to the starting rotation midway through the season. That success earned him a two-year contract with the Mariners, and two weeks into this season Iwakuma is the winningest pitcher on the staff with a 2-0 record and a 2.18 ERA.

In answer to audience questions relayed by master of ceremonies Lori Matsukawa of KING-TV, and speaking through team translator Anthony Suzuki, Iwakuma said the main difference he discovered in Major League Baseball was the “power of the hitters.” When asked his favorite American food, Iwakuma grinned and said in English, “I like hamburg!”

Matsukawa presented the pitcher with a replica home plate signed by all the attendees for the reception, which was sponsored by 20 community organizations known collectively as the Nikkei Community Network.
Kurt Tokita, board chair of the Cultural Center, said that Iwakuma seemed to have a good time. Although the ballplayer was said to be shy, Iwakuma agreed at the last minute to pose for group photos with each of the sponsoring organizations. Prior to the event Iwakuma also visited the Keiro Nursing Home.

Tokita said the welcome reception dovetailed with this year’s theme for the Cultural Center — “Nikkei Baseball” — which he said will include a museum exhibit and an event on Sept. 28. “We wanted a topic that would interest Japanese and Japanese Americans, and what better than baseball?”

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