Glia River Internment Camp
Butte, Arizona

Zenimura Field


In the Fall of 1942, 13,368 Japanese-Americans were incarcerated at Gila River, Arizona. Buildings were designed with double roofs to help ventilate the extreme and intense desert heat. Sheets were shredded and used to stuff the floor cracks due to the harsh wind storms and the clouds of dust that would enter the rooms. On the exterior of the housing units, reflective white sheet rock was also used to reduce the searing heat.

Kenichi Zenimura, Captain, Coach, Manager of the Fresno Athletic Club, recruits players from the camp to help build his third and final baseball diamond. In 1920, he built the Japanese ballpark located next to the City dump in Fresno, California. In 1941, at the Fresno Assembly Center, he designed and built a ball field. Players and volunteers from block 39 and mostly block 28, help construct America’s finest internment baseball diamond, located at the Butte, Arizona desert camp.

A water line located in the laundry room of block 28 was extended almost three hundred feet outside of the barbed wire fence of the camp compound to water the Bermuda grass planted in the outfield. A irrigation ditch was diverted from the main canal to water the castor bean shrubs that would grow to over eight feet surrounding the outfield of the ballpark. Large clods and pebbles were screened out of the rocky infield and used in the dugout and stands area of the diamond to cut down on the dust. Every other ‘4x6’ wooden pole to anchor the barbed wire fence and surplus wood from the lumber yard became part of the backstop and grandstand for seating. Huge sections of cement padding material was draped over the dugouts and backstops for shade and reinforcement. Flour was used to chalk the foul lines of the field and special sections were marked in the stands for exclusive seating. Collection cans were at each entrance leading to the stadium for admission and a hat was past around during the game to offset equipment costs. What was once sagebrush and desert sand had now been transformed into a magnificent, ‘Zenimura Field.’

Once the field was complete, Zenimura organized three divisions and 32 teams. The camp high school team was undefeated, even playing the state champions of Tucson, and wining 11-10 in extra innings. The ‘A’ division men’s squad even traveled to Heart Mountain Wyoming and Amache, Colorado for a baseball road trip. In a major ‘A’ league game, 4,000 to 6,000 fans would line up all around the field to cheer on their favorite team. One man even had his private zoo collection of desert critters on display.

For Japanese-Americans interned during World War II, playing, watching and supporting baseball behind barbed wire brought a sense of normalcy, created a social and positive atmosphere, fostered the skill level year round for the athletes and helped maintain their self-esteem despite the harsh conditions of desert life and unconstitutional incarceration. In Zenimura’s world, life brought a desert...and he built a “Diamond in the Rough.”

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