AJA opens 87th year

LIHUE — Ichiro Chiba said he had the firewood ready Sunday while listening to remarks at the opening of the 87th year of the Americans of Japanese Ancestry baseball league at Vidinha Stadium.

“I am 88 years old,” Ichiro said. “I started playing AJA baseball when I was 17 years old. That’s more than 60 years I have been actively following this league.”

Ichiro’s great-grandson Tavian Chiba was following the progress of a game through the slots of the Vidinha Stadium backdrop.

“It’s just a couple more years before he starts playing,” Ichiro said. “I’m hoping to be around for that, too.”

Under the leadership of president Tom Shigemoto, first vice president Brian Yamase, second vice president and league manager Mel Nishihara, treasurer Russell Maeda, secretary Gerald Ako and umpire coordinator Arthur Brun, the league consists of six teams.

“I am happy to be part of this well-run league,” Shigemoto said. “When I first started, there were a lot of complaints and grumblings. But through the effort of this leadership team — they do all the work — this has evolved to become a pleasant league where all the coaches and managers get along. The league also appreciates the support of all the fans who turn out because without fans, it’s just sandlot baseball.”

Nishihara, in addition to chores on the leadership team, coaches the Makaweli team. The team is joined by Hanapepe, coached by Leroy Nonaka, Kalaheo under Jason Koga, Lihue under Curtis Matsumura, Waimea coached by Garrett Agena, and Kapaa with Ikaika Pezario as coach.

“This is the first time since Kapaa joined the league that it won the championship,” said Queenie Pezario who watched Coach Ikaika accept the championship trophy from Shigemoto.

Travis Shigeta, whose strong arm led Kapaa to a TKO opening victory over Lihue, was named the league’s Most Valuable Player.

“This is a good league,” said Ichiro, whose son and grandson also had stints on the field as AJA players. “It’s good to have the younger players come in so the older players can teach them. When I was team manager, there was a young player who wanted to come in, but there was a dispute about his birth. I wanted him in because he had potential, but was leaning toward the wrong crowd. If he had come in, we would have taught him right, you know, help him with equipment if he couldn’t afford it, and just make sure he was on the right track.”

Nishihara said the league will try for some night games, pending approval from the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

“We’re going to try for some Friday night games,” Nishihara said. “Especially during the Super Bowl weekend. We want a Friday night game to start at 6:30 p.m. We’re going to wait and see.”

The next games are scheduled for Sunday when Kapaa meets Kalaheo starting at 10 a.m. at Vidinha Stadium. Lihue takes on Waimea in a 1 p.m. contest. Makaweli is scheduled to play Hanapepe at the Hanapepe Stadium in a single game starting at 11 a.m.

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