“Remembrance, Honor & Celebration” was the theme of the Oahu AJA Baseball League’s annual awards banquet on April 26 at Natsunoya Tea House. The event also celebrated the league’s victory in the 84th Annual Hawaii State AJA Baseball Championship Tournament, which was played at the Francis Wong Stadium in Hilo on April 6 to 7. O‘ahu champions Waipahu beat Hawai‘i Island champions, Keaukaha Warriors, giving Waipahu its 62nd state tournament win.
Oahu AJA League manager Glen Higa was the emcee for the program. Highlights included a message from league president Wallace “Wally” Izumigawa and the 2019 awards presentations.
Izumigawa talked about the late Zenichi “Zen” Abe, who died last Nov. 1 at the age of 93. Abe was a longtime volunteer caretaker of the Hans L’Orange Park in Waipahu, where games have been played for decades. Izumigawa remembered Abe saying: “Baseball is such a magical game. It allows us to meet good people that enhance our lives.”
He said Abe knew Oahu Sugar Plantation manager Hans L’Orange personally. He told the young players that because of L’Orange’s efforts, many of Waipahu’s plantation workers were not interned during World War II. Izumigawa recalled Abe telling him that L’Orange personally vouched for his Japanese American workers’ loyalty to the U.S. He told authorities they were essential workers and that the plantation would have to shut down if they were interned.
Izumigawa also reminded the young ball players of the many ethnic baseball leagues that existed during the plantation days, including the Braves (Portuguese), the Wanderers (Caucasian) and the All-Filipinos. Today, the AJA League is the only surviving ethnic baseball league in Hawai‘i with a legacy that is now over 100 years old.
The awards presentation followed Izumigawa’s talk. For the first time this year, the award plaques included a photo collage of each player in action. League advisor and photographer Tom Ishigo created the special collage awards so that the players’ children and grandchildren will be able to see their fathers and grandfathers in action.
The 2019 Oahu AJA League Awardees were: Chevas Numata (Waipahu), Most Valuable Player; Karl Sadanaga (Waialae), Manager of the Year; Brandon Roberts (Waialae), Most RBIs and Stolen Bases; Davin Morita (Waialae), Most Wins and Strikeouts; Kip Masuda (Pearl City), Most Home Runs; Kamalu Simeona (McCully), Best ERA; and Brayson Ito (Waialae), Most Stolen Bases.
Ninety-eight-year-old Lillian Yajima — daughter of Steere Noda, who founded Hawai‘i’s first Japanese baseball team, the Asahi — presented the Most Inspirational Award to Shaun Kiriu (Waipahu).
“Shaun is one of AJA Baseball’s most decorated players,” wrote Izumigawa in an email to The Hawai‘i Herald. “Although this is his first Most Inspirational Player Award, he is a four-time Oahu AJA Baseball Most Valuable Player Award winner, which is the most by any AJA player in AJA history. He is an eight-time All-Star, and most recently won the Most Valuable Player Award at the 2019 84th Annual State AJA Baseball Tournament held in Hilo.”
The evening ended with fellowship and picture taking. The laughter and stories of past baseball seasons continued as the attendees departed the tea house to head home.