If there is one person identified with Nisei baseball, it is Kenichi Zenimura, the Founder of Fresno's Central California All-Star team, the Fresno Athletic Club. Beginning in 1919, he spent 55 years in competitive baseball and his team would attain state and national recognition.
Kenichi Zenimura is called the "Dean of the Diamond" and the father of California Japanese Baseball League. He was the visionary player-coach of an organization that lasted more than 50 years, the Fresno Athletic Club. This five foot tall, 105 pound, baseball player played for the love of the game, and the roots of California Nisei ball can be traced to him.
Born in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1900, Zenimura moved to Hawaii a short while later. He was introduced to the game of baseball at Mills High School and played there from 1915-18. He mastered the sport and served as a player and coach for a team that won the Island championship. In 1920, Zenimura moved to Fresno, California where he worked at a small restaurant and as a mechanic. He immediately organized the Fresno Nisei baseball team and eventually established a ten team Nisei league. He managed, coached and played shortstop until he was 55 years old.
Zenimura crossed the chalk lines of discrimination and played for the Fresno Twilight League teams of Al's Club and the Jayne Company . Later his all-star club, the Fresno Athletics, became so dominant that when Ruth and Gehrig arrived in town on a barnstorming tour in 1927, several players, including Zenimura and the "Nisei Babe Ruth" Johnny Nakagawa were invited to play.
Zenimura's teams dominated such college clubs as Stanford, St. Mary's, the university of Southern California and Fresno state during exhibition play. Internationally, he organized six month tours in 1924, 1927, and 1937 to Japan, Korea and Manchuria. These goodwill all-stars compiled a 40-8-2 record over the big "six" u;universities in Japan. Another powerhouse from the Negro Leagues, the Philadelphia Royal Giants, met the Fresno Nisei's in three classic contests in Japan and in the United States in 1927.
During World War II, the Zenimura family was sent to two internment camps, one in the animal stalls at the Fresno fairgrounds, and later the desert wastelands in Gila River, Arizona. In both locations, baseball stadiums were constructed under the guidance of Kenichi's baseball vision. He organized a 32 team league, and also coached and played on the team that won the camp championship. Zenimura Stadium was much more than a ballpark; It bonded the thousands of wartime internees and gave them a sense of normalcy and community pride.
Following the war, the Zenimura family returned to Fresno. He organized and coached the Fresno Nisei baseball team which won two state Nisei Championships and climaxed their performance in 1950 by winning the national Nisei championship in Fresno.
Zenimura's sons, Kenshi and Kenso, as well as Fibber Hirayama ( a member of the Nisei team in Gila Arizona) benefited from the solid fundamentals given to them by coach Zenimura. The trio starred at Fresno State College and all went on to play professionally in Japan for the Hiroshima Carp.
Kenichi Zenimura was the chief organizer, manager, coach and captain of one of California's most fierce and competitive ball clubs in the Central Valley. He became the first Japanese American elected to the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame in 1979.
Kenichi Zenimura has left his indelible mark on baseball diamonds throughout California, Seattle, Colorado and Japan.
"Fibber" Hirayama George "Hats" Omachi Tsuneo "Cappy" Harada
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