Kenichi Zenimura


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Name Kenichi Zenimura
Born January 25 1900
Died November 13 1968
Birth Location Hiroshima, Japan
Generational Identifier

Issei

Known as the "Dean of the Diamond," and the "Father of Japanese American Baseball," Kenichi Zenimura (1900–68) was born in Hiroshima, Japan. At the age of eight, Zenimura moved with his family to the U.S. Territory of Hawai'i. As a student at Mills High School (Mid Pacific Institute) Zenimura was introduced to baseball and played on the school team from 1915-18.

Zenimura moved to Fresno, California, in 1920 and established a ten-team Nisei baseball league. His All-Star club, the Fresno Athletics, won the Japanese American state championship three years in a row. Zenimura took his Japanese American All-Star teams on goodwill exhibition tours in 1924, 1927, and 1937 to Japan, Korea, and Manchuria. Zenimura's teams gained such national and international fame, that when Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth arrived in Fresno to play an exhibition game in October 1927, Zenimura was among the four Japanese Americans picked to play with them.

During World War II Zenimura and his family were sent to Gila River, Arizona, one of the ten concentration camps authorized by the federal government. While at Gila River, Zenimura built a baseball field and organized a three-division, thirty-two team league. The ability to take part in a "normal" prewar activity brought Japanese Americans together and helped ease the trauma of wartime captivity. The participation in the "American pastime" also served as a way for Japanese Americans to assert their loyalty to the United States. Zenimura field officially closed on November 10, 1945.

After World War II, Zenimura and his family returned to Fresno where he continued to coach and organize the Fresno Nisei baseball team. He passed away on November 13, 1968.

In 2006 Kenichi Zenimura was posthumously inducted into the Shrine of the Eternals, the people's alternative to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The Shrine pays tribute to individuals whose talents and merits transcend statistics and playing ability.

Authored by Christen Sasaki, California State University, San Francisco

For More Information

Nakagawa, Kerry Yo. Through a Diamond: 100 Years of Japanese American Baseball. San Francisco: Rudi Pub, 2001.

Staples, Bill. Kenichi Zenimura: Japanese American Baseball Pioneer. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2011.