On Sunday at Zupo Field, the Lodi Japanese-American Citizens League will be creating another chapter in their long history.
The Lodi Japanense-American baseball team, which is known as the Templars, will be honoring men who have been a part of a 104-year old tradition.
In its first home game of the season, the Templars, who play in the Northern California Japanese American Baseball League, will play against Fresno. The ceremonial first pitch is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. and the first pitch at 11. There are 24 players on the roster whose ages range from 16 to 50. All players are of Japanese descent. The players come from Lodi, Stockton, the Sacramento area and the Bay Area.
According to Dwight Ota, who is the team manager for the Templars, the squad plays 18 games, or nine doubleheaders during the summer. The season wraps up with the State AA Nisei Tournament on Labor Day weekend. Lodi won the tournament in 2015.
Sunday’s home game will be more than pitching, fielding, hitting, stealing bases and touching home plate for the players on the home and visitor’s sides. The team is honoring the 75th anniversary of the first battle in World War II of the 442nd Regimental Combat Unit.
The unit was comprised of young Japanese-American men who had been interned in concentration camps for being of Japanese descent. Although the United States government interned them, the men wanted the chance to fight for their country. This legendary combat team became the highest decorated unit of its size in United States history.
“There were several Lodians that were part of this regiment,” said Ota, who played for the Templars until 2015.
Tets Matsumoto, a former member of the 442nd and the baseball team in the 1940s, is slated to throw out the first pitch. Matsumoto is in his 90s, Ota noted.
“I was contacted by a friend of the team that let me know Mr. Matsumoto wanted to come out to the field and participate,” Ota said. “I was surprised and pleased to hear that he wanted to throw out a first pitch. I am looking forward to meeting him.”
Matsumoto has quite a baseball background, Ota learned. Through Keith Kanegawa, a friend of Matsumoto, Ota stated that Matsumoto played in 442 career JACL games after World War II ended. He played center field.
During his time in World War II, Matsumoto was drafted by the U.S. Army at age 19. He first served in Florida, and then went to Italy, where he worked on anti-tank guns. He served on the European Front in Italy for 16 months.
Earning the ranking of staff sergeant, Matsumoto was in charge of an anti-tank gun squad. He was responsible for control of operations and tactical deployment of the gun crew that included the Bofors 57 mm L/naval artillery gun.
After the war ended, Matsumoto helped transfer German prisoners to Austria and Switzerland. Then he returned to his life in Lodi.
Representatives for the late Masato Yamashita and Lloyd Fujitani, both of whom were part of the 442nd RCT, are scheduled to take part in Sunday’s pre-game ceremonies. Both were drafted by the Army. Yamashita earned a Congressional Gold Medal to the 442nd in 2010. Fujitani spent most of the war guarding German prisoners of war in Italy.
Yamashita, who died in 2011, was the Templars’ manager from 1959 until his death — more than 50 years. The baseball field at Kofu Park is named after him.
The Templars have won many championships over the years. They won the Nisei Championships in 1939 and 1940 when they were named the Young Men’s Buddhist Association Templars.
By the early 1960s, the team was known as the Lodi Civics, and won the Nisei Championships in 1962, 1963 and 1964.
In 1996, the Templars won the Lower Division State Title, which was the team’s first upper division title since the 1940s.
Sunday’s game is the first of five home games for the Templars this summer. Next home game is Saturday, June 29 against Florin-Sacramento/Lodi Obon. On Saturday, July 27, the Templars will play Fresno at Kofu Park.
Contact Mike Bush at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @MBushLodiSports.