Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pipeline of APA sports stars

Sports is not my forte - if it were, this blog would be called Strength & Sports instead. But I do think that having players like Yao Ming in basketball has created a pipeline for Asian athletes in America like Yi Jianlian, who was just welcomed to the not very Asian American town of Milwaukee, Wisconsin as the newest member of the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team.

Justin Lee, 11, who lives in Hartland, came with his mother, Lucia, and his sister Annabelle, 10, to see what the fuss was all about. He said he wanted to see just how big Yi was. Very tall, he concluded. Justin said he hoped to go to several Bucks games this season.

During the ceremony, Yi was joined onstage by Kohl, Mayor Tom Barrett, Chinese Consul General Ping Huang, Bucks General Manager Larry Harris, Coach Larry Krystkowiak, and teammates Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd.

At the ceremony, speeches were given, best wishes were forwarded to Yi, and gifts were exchanged. But the fans, who came from as far as Chicago, Appleton, Stevens Point and Madison, wanted to hear from Yi. And so, with the help of his translator, Roy Lu, Yi obliged.

What excites Yi about playing in the NBA? Yi said it was a dream come true to come to the United States to play professional basketball. And he promised to do his best to contribute to the city and the Bucks and to play well.

Similarly, Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners baseball team with his numerous successes and first-ever awards, set the stage for other Japanese baseball players to become hit in the US:

Kazuo Matsui, NY Mets:
Kazuo Matsui is like a lot of young men in Tokyo these days. At the mention of Ichiro his face lights up with wonder. "When I think about him being in the major leagues, it amazes me," he says though an interpreter. "Then I see Ichiro getting two, three hits a game? I get so much out of it."

Hideki Matsui, NY Yankees:
For the next five months, though, all manner of speculation, panic and pride will rain down on Giants centerfielder Hideki Matsui, 28, the free-agent slugger, two-time MVP and former batting champion who is called Godzilla "because I look so scary," he says. The 1.9 m, 95.3 kg Hideki bears the fortunate burden of playing for Japan's oldest, most successful team, an institution combining the prestige of the Yankees and the fan reverence accorded Notre Dame. The Giants always lead the league in attendance and give their stars a profile Ichiro could only have dreamed of when he played in Japan.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston Red Sox, who signed a crazy contract for over $50 Million according to wiki:

On November 14, the Boston Red Sox won the bidding rights to Matsuzaka with a bid of $51,111,111.11, outbidding the Texas Rangers, New York Mets, and New York Yankees. [4] [5] [6] The Red Sox had 30 days to sign Matsuzaka to a contract. If a deal could not be reached, Matsuzaka would have returned to the Lions, nullifying the bid. Scott Boras refused to consider the posting fee as part of the contract negotiations, while Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein recalled, "We tried to come up with a total number, for the post and contract, that made sense."[7] On December 11, Epstein, Red Sox owner John W. Henry and CEO Larry Lucchino boarded a plane to "[take] the fight directly to [Boras]". [8] Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe asserted that Boras, by refusing to negotiate, was using Matsuzaka as a protest or "test case of the posting system."[8]

On December 13, Matsuzaka and Boras joined Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, CEO Larry Lucchino, and Chairman Tom Werner on a private plane owned by Red Sox owner John Henry headed for Boston. During the flight—which was followed by both the Boston and the Japanese media [9]—the group agreed to terms on a contract. Journalist Nobuhiro Chiba characterized Japanese reaction to the signing: "I think the people are relieved to send Daisuke to the Boston Red Sox."[9] In Boston, Matsuzaka passed his physical and signed the six-year, $52 million contract, which could be worth as much as $60 million if he fulfills incentives. The details of the contract include a $2 million signing bonus with a $6 million salary in 2007, $8 million in each of the following three seasons (2008–2010), and $10 million in each of the final two years (2011–2012). [10] He also has a no-trade clause, specially constructed by the Red Sox to fit Matsuzaka's contract. [11]

Just some examples of how a pipeline of Asian sportstars can change American perceptions of APIA men and also inspire new APIA greats. It's fantastic that people from all over Wisconsin and Illinois trekked out to see Yi Jianlian, and I hope he is happy to see his fans as well.

Here's a good site that tracks the Japanese players in the US: http://www.japaneseballplayers.com/en/.

And we shouldn't forget the role that baseball has played in Japanese American history - how some nisei believed it helped save them while they were in the internment camps.

About a game in Tucson between legendary Gila River Butte High Eagles and state-champion Tucson High Badgers baseball teams will reunite 61 years after their historic meeting in Rivers, Arizona – the Japanese-American internment camp on the Gila River Indian Community.

The legendary Eagles vs. Badgers game occurred on April 18, 1945, and was later described by head coach Kenichi Zenimura as “one of the most thrilling chapters in the history of Butte (Gila River) baseball.”

As for the game itself, the Eagles defeated the three-time state champions Badgers 11-10 in ten innings. Afterwards, both teams displayed an impressive level of respect and sportsmanship by sharing a post-game meal and sumo-wrestling lessons. Weeks later, head coaches Zenimura and Hank Slagle attempted to schedule a rematch in Tucson. Unfortunately, their request was denied by local authorities.

Zenimura’s disappointment with the cancellation was echoed by Slagle, who later wrote, “I sincerely hope it won’t be too long till we are all thinking straight again and can live together in a true Democracy that we Americans of all races have created.”

This single ballgame – played during a time when the nation was deeply divided by war – has become an important symbol of American brotherhood and goodwill. It also demonstrates how athletics help transcend barriers created by language, race, religion, and politics.

Also Hines Ward's prominence and Toby Dawson's struggle to find his family in Korea have increased the presence of APA sports stars,and publicized the plight of adoptees who navigate two cultures, never feeling at home in either one.

Dawson said he plans to use a new foundation he is starting in his name to help work to avoid cases like his in the future.

"Being caught in limbo between two different countries and not looking like your family is going to be tough," he said. "We need to try to keep our children and work a little bit harder to keep these circumstances from happening."

Dawson noted how he shared his healthy sideburns with his father, who during the news conference reached over several times to touch Dawson's face while they also held hands.

"My life until now has been confused," Dawson said. "I looked at my parents and I didn't look like them. Then I also felt if I went to Korea I didn't belong there.

"I felt like I was still lost, stuck between two different worlds," he said.

I never wanted to be a sports star growing up, but I can appreciate that it must have been hard for APA kids who did because if you had a role model, they didn't look like you - you could try to "see" yourself as Michael Jordan or Larry Bird, but there's only so much zone training can do for re-imagining the color of your skin.

Indeed, baseball was one of the first sports to help transcend barriers between race and politics, with Jackie Robinson's success cheered on by white and black fans alike. Our new sports heroes are doing similar work for APIA relations now.

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