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The Hamilton Nisei Baseball League in Canada - Part 2

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George Masuda was born in Vancouver in 1928. After completing Model Elementary school, he went to King Edward High School and was in grade 9 when the war started. The family was first interned in New Denver then Tashme. The family settled in Hamilton in 1946. After finishing high school, George worked as a metallurgist with Stelco Steel. Married to Carol, he has two daughters: Kathy who passed away young and Marcia who lives in Port Elgin, Ontario. He has two brothers, Roy (Thunder Bay) and Glen (Hamilton).

In post-war Hamilton, there were a lot of Nikkeijin in the area of York Street between Queen and Dundurn. Another ghetto was on John St. North, between MacNab and John St., north of Barton and walking distance to International Harvester.

Tosh, married to Kim, remembers that his family arrived in Hamilton in 1946. “We had a heck of a time finding places to stay. Only the Italians and Germans opened their homes up to us. Finally, we found a place on the third floor of an Italian owned place. I remember the summer being so hot with no air coming in. Finally, we saved enough to buy a house that cost $6,000 and we were worried sick about how we were going to pay for it.”

“It was pretty hard getting a job back then too. Making the transition from wartime to peace time, everybody was getting laid off,” Tosh remembers. “Then somebody told us that Harvester International was hiring people so I went down to get a job. After a couple of weeks, the baseball season started. I was used to going back and forth filling these 80-pound moulds with liquid steel. So I said, after doing that for eight hours I was pooped and had to play ball again. I said ‘holy moly,’ I’ve either got to quit one or the other, so I quit Harvester!”

The Hamilton Nisei Recreation Sunday Baseball League started around 1948 by Bob Shimoda, Kats Oikawa, ex-Asahi player “Nagy” Nishihara, Charlie and George Tanaka, and Yuki Uno. The league lasted until the mid-‘50s. The manager of the all star team was former Asahi star Roy Yamamura. He eventually moved to Toronto. The all stars from the league played in the Halton County League that included Milton, Acton, Fergus, and Georgetown.

There were four teams: Sox, Cubs, Giants, and Tigers. They would play twice a week: Friday night, then either Saturday or Sunday night. “Everybody would show up on Friday night at Eastwood Park on the waterfront,” recalls George. “There were bleacher seats for about 500. Hakujin, white people, used to come out to watch us, too. They were ‘Northenders’,” adds Tosh. They were surprised that the Nisei spoke any English at all.

What was the rivalry between the Hamilton and Toronto Nisei teams like?

Frank remembers going to play the Toronto Nisei all star team at Christie Pits. “We always wanted to win but they had a larger pool of players,” he recalls painfully. “If we lost one or two players, they were hard to replace.”

Any special memories?

“I remember going to the Six Nations (Indian Reservation) to play,” says George with a smile. “The Indian ladies came around to watch us play. They were really interested in the Nisei. I don’t know how we got the invitation. We played them and walloped them. We went once to Caledonia. I still remember playing in Christie Pits in Toronto. It was the Nisei League and Basil Shintani was pitching for us. He was really good.”

“We had two good umpires,” chuckles George, “I still remember Eichi Goto because when it was warm in the summer time he would go shirtless! He was a really colourful guy. Norm Oikawa (who became an important Redress activist) was there too. They were religious about umpiring.”

Jim attended the University of Toronto in the 1950s for architecture, rooming with the now famous architect, Raymond Moriyama, and went to Japan to work after graduation. “I first met (Asahi player) Roy Nishidera in 1960 in Tokyo when I was working for a Japanese architectural firm,” Koyanagi says. Roy worked for Takenaka Komuten, a large construction company that did a lot of overseas work. He was one of the gambariya resisters who spent time in Angler and Petawawa P.O.W. camps. “Roy and his wife were upset with the Canadian government’s treatment of the Japanese and returned to Japan after the war. Through my brother’s father-in-law, I met other repatriated Nisei then, like Sally Nakamura, Shinobu Higashi, Kazuo Sato, and others through the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Tokyo,” says Jim.

So what has kept this group of Nisei together for more than 50 years? Simple. Golf. “We weren’t ‘couch potatoes’,” says Koyanagi. “We were active. There is that continuity to some extent. I went to a tournament in BC. What they still do in Vancouver is have 30 golfers and their wives take 3 or 4 days and play different courses. The wives who don’t golf go to the casino.”

“Most of the Nisei were involved in the community in one way or another,” adds George. “The Sansei and Yonsei don’t have that sense of community anymore.”

© 2011 Norm Masaji Ibuki

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