AJA turns 68 this year

LIHU’E – The skies may have been sunny at Vidinha Stadium, but clouds masked the celebration as the Kaua’i AJA (Americans of Japanese Ancestry) opened its 68th season by paying tribute to two members who were missing from the ranks of dignitaries at Sunday’s opening ceremonies.

Tom Shigemoto, president of the league, announced the organization’s active search for a secretary/scorekeeper to replace Roy Miyashiro, whose dedication for over 12 years to the league provided the league officials with team photos, up-to-date statistics, and full recording of all league games, including the state championships that rotate through Kaua’i every four years.

Ichiro Chiba dedicated over 50 years of his life to the AJA league, as Shigemoto announced that Chiba stepped down from the ranks of league officials to spend more time with the team he grew up with – the Makaweli Indians.

Chiba, celebrating with the Indians following their 8-3 opening loss at the hands of Kapa’a, one of the newest teams in the league, noted that at one time during his career, he and his son Mel were one of the few father-son pitcher/catcher teams in the state with Mel hurling from the mound to a smooth-talking catcher Ichi who coaxed batters into chasing downstairs ball while Mel whizzed the sphere upstairs.

Shigemoto also announced the league’s search for an umpire coordinator as Nelson Oshiro filled in behind the plate for the day’s second contest featuring the Kaua’i champion Kalaheo Kaneshiro Farms and the Lihu’e Builders.

Filling in for Shigemoto behind the opening day microphone was league secretary Gerald Ako with First Vice President Mamo Kaneshiro sporting a new black cap emblazoned with a green-filled white “K.” Brian Yamase fills in the Second Vice President slot, and in the absence of umpires, took up the base ump position. Russell Maeda is the league treasurer.

Shigemoto, who also took his turn behind the plate as the head umpire for the morning contest between Makaweli and Kapa’a, got some umpiring hints from Kalaheo coach Peter Ishibashi who also fills in as a KIF umpire himself.

Kaina McCallum captured the 2002 season MVP and hitting champion awards with Kapa’a’s Ryan Silva topping the Batting list. Troy Kaneshiro of Kalaheo earned the RBI champion award.

A moment of tribute was paid to longtime AJA supporter Punchy Furutani before Ako announced the “Play Ball!” that players from all five teams were waiting for.

The league sports five teams – Kapa’a, Lihu’e, Kalaheo, Hanapepe, and Makaweli.

All games are played on Sunday with the exception of Super Bowl Sunday with the first contest getting underway at 9 a.m. The afternoon contest usually starts at 1 p.m.

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