Lodi JACL Templars honor 442nd Regimental Combat Team on opening day

LODI, Calif. — On a mild summer 85-degree Lodi morning, the Northern California Japanese American Baseball League had its opening day for the 2019 season. The Lodi JACL Templars hosted the Fresno Sansei at Tony Zupo stadium June 9. Pre-game ceremonies celebrated and honored the connection between the Lodi JACL baseball team and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, one of the most highly decorated units in the U.S. military.

“There were several Lodians that were part of this regiment,” said Dwight Ota, Lodi JACL Templars general manager, who played for the team until 2015.

Despite having all their property and possessions taken away and then thrown into American concentration camps, these men joined the U.S. Army to fight on behalf of the country that incarcerated them.

Lodi JACL Templars’ cap with 442nd Unit patch on the side
photo by Dwight Ota

Pre-game festivities included ceremonial first pitches, thrown out by representatives of former Lodi player and manager Mauch Yamashita (Mike Mikasa, former Lodi pitcher from the 1980s and 1990s) and team supporter Lloyd Fujitani (Paul Fujitani, nephew of Lloyd), and former player Tets Matsumoto, in his 90s.

The late Masato “Mauch” Yamashita was born in Lodi, Calif., and was a life-long resident of Lodi.

Yamashita graduated from Rohwer High School during World War II while he was held at the Japanese American concentration camp located in Rohwer, Ark. During his incarceration, Yamashita joined the U.S. Army. He was awarded a Purple Heart for being wounded in combat and the Bronze Star for heroic achievement in combat.

Baseball played a big part throughout Yamashita’s life. He played baseball while in Rohwer, then continued playing in Lodi on the Japanese American Citizens League team. Later he coached, and then managed the team from 1959 until his death — for more than 50 years. He was generous with his time and support to his team and players, and other community baseball activities. In honor of his contributions, the Kofu Park baseball diamond was named “Masato ‘Mauch’ Yamashita Field” in 2002. He passed away in 2011 at the age of 86.

Lloyd Fujitani was born in Acampo, Calif. in 1917.

In 1942, Fujitani and his family were forcibly removed to a concentration camp in Rohwer, Ark., where he worked preparing food in the mess hall. In 1943, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and became a member of Company I of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Fujitani was a little older than most of the guys in the unit so they nicknamed him “Pops.” Fujitani spent most of the war guarding German prisoners of war in Italy. After being discharged from the Army, he returned to Acampo.

Weekends during the summer were usually spent with his buddy Mauch Yamashita and watching Yamashita coach Lodi’s JACL baseball team when they played both in Lodi and on the road. He and “Mauch” would argue like a married couple about memories that neither could remember exactly. Fujitani passed away on June 9, 2018 at the age of 101, one year to the day of this ceremony.

Tets Matsumoto played in 400-plus career JACL games after World War II ended. He played center field.

During his time in World War II, Matsumoto was drafted by the U.S. Army at age 19. He first served in Florida, and then went to Italy, serving on the European Front in Italy for 16 months. Earning the ranking of staff sergeant, Matsumoto was in charge of an anti-tank gun squad. After the war ended, Matsumoto helped transfer German prisoners to Austria and Switzerland. Then he returned to his life in Lodi, where he still lives today.

“It’s important for us to pass on the history of the team and the Japanese American community,” Mike Furutani, former Lodi JACL Templars manager, said. “Then hopefully our players now can pass along the history and traditions to the next generation of players.”

“It’s about community and family,” Marty Sakata, current Lodi JACL Templars manager added. “The players can feel a sense of pride that the players before them persevered through difficult times and gave them the opportunity to play baseball.”

“In their honor, we keep the tradition of Japanese American Baseball alive in our local communities,” Ota said.

The Templars are also honoring the 442nd with the Unit patch on the side of their caps and the unit motto “Go for Broke” on the back. “We want the players to embody the motto, to play hard with an all-out effort,” Sakata said. “Leave it all on the field.”

In the baseball games, Lodi and Fresno split the opening day double header — Fresno took the first game, 4-0, behind a strong start by Kyle Yamamoto who had 15 strikeouts. Lodi came back and took game 2, 13-2.

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