Giants honor Japanese heritage as postseason hero Ishikawa in limbo


Norichika Aoki. photo by Scott Nakajima/Nakajima Photography

On May 19, hundreds of baseball fans arrived early to the San Francisco Giants game to enjoy Japanese Heritage Night at AT&T Park. The annual event was hosted by the Giants organization in partnership with the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, Japanese American Citizens League, Nakayoshi Young Professionals and San Jose Japantown.

Norichika Aoki. photo by Scott Nakajima/Nakajima Photography
Norichika Aoki. photo by Scott Nakajima/Nakajima Photography

The evening’s festivities were highlighted by a visit from the Giants’ new outfielder, Norichika Aoki, and a Travis Ishikawa bobblehead figure for each attendee. Attendees were also entertained by performances from the Nikkei Student Union and the San Francisco Awakko Ren. Before the start of the game, Japanese television personality and singer Haruna Ai sang the Japanese national anthem. As event organizers were still preparing, dozens of fans had already formed a line to attend the heritage events and get their hands on the coveted Ishikawa bobblehead.

Ishikawa, a first baseman and outfielder, hit the dramatic game-winning homerun in the Giants’ series-clinching win in the 2014 National League Championship series against the St. Louis Cardinals. That moment keyed the Giants to a third world championship in five years, and is regarded as one of the most memorable moments in Giants history.

Joanne Tolosa, a Giants fan and San Francisco resident, said one of her main reasons for attending the Heritage Night was Ishikawa’s bobblehead. Tolosa, the head minister of Konko Church of San Francisco, came with 43 church members. She attended the game when Ishikawa hit the playoff homerun, and remembered, “We all hugged each other in the stands. I was ecstatic!”

HISTORIC HOMERUN — Travis Ishikawa’s walk-off homerun captured in a bobblehead. photo by Scott Nakajima/Nakajima PhotographyNakajima/Nakajima Photography
HISTORIC HOMERUN — Travis Ishikawa’s walk-off homerun captured in a bobblehead. photo by Scott Nakajima/Nakajima Photography

Ishikawa was in San Francisco on this night and looked forward to obtaining a few bobbleheads commemorating his postseason heroics. His bobblehead contains a unique, built-in feature of popular Giants broadcaster Jon Miller calling Ishikawa’s homerun. When this reporter told him of this feature, Ishikawa excitedly replied, “Really? No way!” He added, “My bobblehead is way better than everyone else’s!”

He was humbled that so many fans bought a special ticket for his bobblehead event the same night that the Golden State Warriors were tipping off the Western Conference Finals. Ishikawa joked, “Given how well the Warriors are playing, I don’t know whether the fans made the right decision by coming to the (Giants) game tonight.”

Even though many fans came to pay tribute to Ishikawa, they may not get to see him in a Giants uniform again. The Giants designated him for assignment on May 25, meaning the they have taken him off the team’s 40-man roster, and have until June 4 to trade him. If he is not traded, the Giants must place Ishikawa on waivers, where another team can claim him. If Ishikawa goes unclaimed, he could remain with the Giants organization by accepting an assignment to play in its minor league system.

Ishikawa has not appeared in a regular season game in 2015 due to a back injury. He was playing his way back into shape with the Giants’ triple-A affiliate in Sacramento, but his rehabilitation assignment ended on May 23.

Besides the Ishikawa bobblehead, many fans attended because of the chance to enjoy and share their heritage in a unique setting. Jim Furuichi, a resident of Berkeley, Calif., attended with three generations of his family. A self-described “last of the Nisei,” Furuichi attended because heritage night is important to him. He said, “I’m trying to pass along the heritage to the next generation, and that’s why I’m here with my grandson.”

Giants fans were also treated to a 2-0 win against the arch rival, Los Angeles Dodgers. The Giants lineup featured Aoki in his customary leadoff spot and playing left field.

Before the game, Aoki spent a few minutes engaging in a Q-and-A-format session with the heritage night attendees. During the Q-and-A, Aoki reflected on the good, the bad, and the unexpected of playing in San Francisco. He said he enjoyed the passion that Giants fan exude every game, but was surprised at the weather of playing in the China Basin. Aoki lamented, “It’s a little colder than I expected for California.” His response drew a knowing laughter from the Bay Area audience.

As for Ishikawa, he wanted to say “thank you” to the fans who came out to support him. He said he was deeply appreciative of the fans and would not forget his time in San Francisco. Even with the possibility that Ishikawa will not be playing for the Giants this season, it seems his fans won’t soon forget him either.

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