Although it may not look like it now, Oppenheimer Park in the Downtown Eastside was once a baseball diamond – home field for the Vancouver Asahi, an all-Japanese baseball club formed in 1914. Earlier this month, a ceremony honored the nearly forgotten team, 70 years to the day the club was disbanded and its players sent to internment camps.
The story of the Asahi is among the most fascinating, and little-known, chapters of Vancouver’s early history (as related in this great Vancouver Sun article). The team was started in 1914 when businessman Harry Miyasaki brought together the best amateur players from British Columbia’s fast-growing Japanese population. The club, known as the Asahi Tigers, competed against the city’s white ball clubs during the early days of baseball.
And they kicked some butt.
The Asahi, despite being a leaner and smaller team, consistently dominated their opponents by playing a style of baseball they dubbed brainball. Instead of trying to compete with homeruns, they focused on bunts, stolen bases and squeeze plays.
They won Vancouver’s International League title in 1919 and only grew in popularity over the next two decades. Of course, the team’s exploits resonated off the field as well. During a time of de facto segregration and widespread discrimination, Asahi games brought together white and Japanese spectators to cheer for the same team.
Sadly, the Asahi saga came to an abrupt end after their last game on Sept. 18, 1941. After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Japanese-Canadians were forcibly removed to internment camps scattered across the country and the team was disbanded. Interestingly enough, a kind of informal league was set up in the camps, and a championship was even held in 1943.
Here’s a link to the award-winning documentary on the team called Sleeping Tigers. You can also check out a great virtual exhibit on the team, its founding, strategy and success at Virtual Museum Canada. There’s also a new plaque in Oppenheimer Park honouring the Asahi’s legacy.
It’s a long shot, but does anyone out there remember seeing the Asahi Tigers play in Oppenheimer Park? If so, please comment below.