LIHUE — There would’ve been four generations of the Chiba family Sunday during the opening ceremonies for the 89th season of the Kauai Americans of Japanese Ancestry baseball league at Vidinha Stadium.
“My son would’ve been here,” said Bradley Chiba of the Makaweli Indians. “But he’s playing a game right now with the Mustang winter games.”
Chiba traces his roots to his grandfather, Ichiro, who was manning the post-game refreshment tent, and his father, Mel Chiba, who were all players with the Makaweli program.
The Makaweli Indians, dropping its opening game preceding the opening ceremonies, were recipients of the league’s championship trophy for winning the league in 2018, the coveted trophy being accepted by team Manager Leighton Otoman.
Joining Otoman, Jaykob Nakata beamed with a smile brighter than the Sunday sunshine as he accepted the league’s Most Valuable Player trophy from Kauai AJA president Tom Shigemoto and Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami on behalf of his dad Jason Nakata.
“We’re lucky to have Tom Shigemoto,” said Mel Nishihara, the league’s second vice president and league manager. “He’s been here for a long time and worked his way up, starting as a player, coach, and now, being in administration. I don’t know where we would be if he stopped doing this.”
Commanding the Kauai AJA league, Brian Yamase joins the administrative ranks as first vice president, and Russell Maeda serves as the league treasurer. Gerald Ako is the league secretary.
“I’m stepping in for Gerald,” Yamase said. “He’s on Oahu because his daughter just gave birth. But he’ll be back.”
Kauai AJA opened its season Sunday with five teams after Waimea dropped out following the 2018 season.
In addition to Makaweli, Leroy Nonaka keeps the Hanapepe Rivermen legacy rolling, Jason Koga and Zoom Bukoski brought out the Kalaheo team for the opening ceremonies despite the team drawing a bye Sunday, Curtis Matsumura coaches the Lihue team, and Ikaika Pezario leads the Kapaa Warrior squad.
“May all the AJA members who take part in this league gain valuable experiences in sportsmanship, promote physical development, and have recreation for themselves,” said the Rev. Tomo Hojo of the West Kauai Hongwanji Mission, who presided over the aspiration and meditation. “May this activity bring about better understanding among the AJA members and create a stronger spirit of their teams.”
The spirit is the energy that fueled the league from the start, said Kawakami.
Baseball is significant as a morale booster and a symbol of hope, the mayor said. “Baseball’s significance led to the president of the United States signing legislation that kept baseball alive.”
Less than a year following that act, the United States moved 120,000 Japanese citizens to internment camps, where they were caged. In a Manzanar camp, famed American photographer Ansel Adam came to realize that the interned people overcame defeat and despair through baseball.
“Baseball was a weapon against the despair,” Kawakami said. “One resident said, ‘Putting on the baseball uniform was akin to wearing the American flag.’”
The Kauai AJA baseball games are Sundays starting at 10 a.m. at either Hanapepe Stadium or Vidinha Stadium in Lihue.
Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.