Exhibit showcases a Japanese American player who brought baseball to Arizona incarceration camps
During World War II, Japanese Americans living along the West Coast were forced to move into incarceration camps.
Many yearned for a way to find normalcy and some turned to America’s national pastime — baseball.
The Phoenix area, home of spring training for over seven decades, is well known for baseball. People descend each spring to soak up sunshine and beer at intimate stadiums all over town.
But there was a different kind of baseball experience during World War II, and a different kind of baseball star Kenichi Zenimura, a Japanese prisoner known as the “Dean of the Diamond.”
Zenimura was one of 120,000 Japanese Americans held at incarceration camps across the country, including in the Arizona desert. Despite hardships, Zenimura organized a robust baseball league inside the fences of the Gila River War Relocation camp about 30 miles southeast of Phoenix.
A new exhibit, “Rebuilding Home plate — Baseball in Arizona’s Japanese American Incarceration Camps” at the Arizona Heritage Center captures pieces of this history.
Before the war, Kenichi Zenimura’s All-Star club, the Fresno Athletics, won the Japanese American state championship three years in a row. Zemimura’s teams were so well known that when the New York Yankees traveled to Fresno, to play an exhibition game, Zenimura was picked to play with the team.
Once he was incarcerated, Zenimura’s sportsmanship took a different turn. He built a baseball field from nothing in a remote, arid location.
The Show spoke with Elizabeth Kapp, the Arizona Heritage Center curator of the exhibit designed to showcase this forgotten sports history.
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