San Francisco Giants: a proud legacy of Japanese players


March 17, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Japanese fans before the World Baseball Classic semifinal against the Puerto Rico at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sport

I am a Japanese-American.  Being half Japanese, and also Guatemalan and Filipino, I feel blessed to have been born in a country, and a community that has been loving and accepting of my family and their ethnicity.

Being Japanese has given me an additional reason to take pride in certain players who have come through the Majors. As a teen, in 1995, I remember looking up to Hideo Nomo,  and trying (and failing) to imitate his signature windup.

I feel blessed to have been born in a country… loving and accepting of my family and their ethnicity

In 2001, Tsuyoshi Shinjo (whose SF debut was overshadowed by the great Ichiro) was one of the first Japanese players to don the orange and black.

We have to go all the way back to 1964, however, to find the first Japanese Giant.  As a matter of fact, Masanori “Mashi” Murakami was the very first Japanese player in the major leagues.  Not an overpowering pitcher, he relied on his screwball and his left-handed sidearm delivery to get batters out.

Please, take a few minutes and enjoy this short Youtube clip shared by docfilmcat honoring Murakami:

During an era still riddled with racism and prejudice, Murakami joined a collection of other cultures on a team that included Cuban-born Tito Fuentes, Dominicans Juan Marichal, Matty and Jesus Alou, Puerto Ricans Orlando Cepeda and Jose Pagan, and African-Americans Willie Mays,Willie McCovey and Ollie Brown.

Oct 16, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants left fielder Travis Ishikawa (45) celebrates hitting a walk off three run home run against the St. Louis Cardinals during the ninth inning of game five of the 2014 NLCS playoff at AT&T Park. Giants won 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Since 1964, a handful of Japanese players have signed with San Francisco.  After Shinjo, came Keiichi Yabu (from 2005-’08), and Japanese-American Travis Ishikawa, who joined the team in 2006, and other stints, including his current tenure with the team.  There was Kensuke Tanaka (2013),  and now recently added to the squad is Norichika “Nori” Aoki.

Aoki should know that the San Francisco community celebrates diversity, and that may have been a contributing factor in his decision to join the team.  He will likely be recognized during the, May 19th, Japanese Heritage Night at AT&T Park, and certainly by the large Japanese population in the Bay Area.

Aoki joins the team with a ready smile and an engaging personality that will be quickly embraced by the community.  I can almost guarantee that there will be a smattering of signs with Japanese characters in attendance at the home opener and beyond.  And don’t be surprised if Nori acknowledges the fans enthusiasm with a little interaction:

Along with speed and a reliable contact-hitting approach (.287 career BA), Aoki also brings big game experience to the plate.  He was a member of both World Baseball Classic teams who took home the title for Japan, in 2006 and 2009.  And most recently he enjoyed post season success with the Kansas City Royals, making some big plays to get them to the Big Show:

You may see me around the yard this season, sporting a Tokyo Yakult Swallows cap, holding up a sign, or shouting encouragement in support of Aoki and “Ishi”, and hopefully if you’re out there, no matter who you are or where your family comes from, you might do the same.