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Amache Archaeology Collection

Connecting the Pieces: Dialogues on the Amache Archaeology Collection Online Exhibit 


Dimensional lumber, largest fragment 1.38" long. Found in Block 12H.


How did archaeologists figure out these pieces of wood were part of the backstop of a baseball diamond? Archaeologists use a variety of methods to determine how people used objects in the past. The researchers at Amache used excavation, oral history, and historic photographs to shed light on the story of these pieces of wood.

In 2014, an archaeology team excavated block 12H of Amache. They uncovered several planks of cedar lumber that intrigued them because cedar was not available at the camp. A man who had lived at Amache later visited the site and described his memories about playing baseball in the camp. He pointed at the excavation site and said, "that is where we played baseball." Along with his oral history, the team examined historic photographs and noted a wooden wall in that same location, another line of evidence to interpret this as a baseball backstop.

- Mason Seymore, DU Student Curator


Baseball backstops adjacent to 12H and 12K bath houses.

Courtesy of Helen Yagi Sekikawa.


Portions of backstop revealed in the 12H excavation.

Courtesy of the DU Amache Project.

Personal Reflection

Playing, watching and supporting baseball behind barbed wire brought a sense of normalcy... despite the harsh conditions of desert life and unconstitutional incarceration. - Nisei Baseball Research Project

WH-A-A-A-C-K!!! That sound resounding through an internment camp is a fascinating but little known story.

Japanese passion for baseball began in 1867 when American professor Horace Wilson baseball introduced the sport as a means to modernize the Japanese education system. When Japanese immigrants arrived in the U.S., they brought their love of the game with them. In 1903, the organized sport of Japanese American baseball began in San Francisco. In the following decade, immigrant Issei, who had learned the game in Japan, formed teams in California, Colorado, Washington, and Wyoming.

The popularity of baseball grew and by 1942 there were many league and semi-pro baseball players among the incarcerated Japanese Americans. Under their leadership, organized baseball went to assembly centers and then to internment camps, where they built diamonds and established male and female leagues. Internees were resourceful in finding materials for the game—moms made uniforms from mattress covers!


A tense moment in the Amache-Powers Country All-Star baseball game, Sunday September 12, 1943.

Courtesy of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Baseball teams at Amache, Gila River, Poston, and Heart Mountain traveled to other internment camps to compete. The War Relocation Authority supported these teams because baseball conveyed a greater acceptance of American culture.

Among the members of the Amache baseball team was Harry Ishikawa, grandfather of current San Francisco Giant, Travis Ishikawa. Did his baseball roots begin at Amache?

- Millie Morimoto King, Sansei (third generation Japanese American). Incarcerated at Rohwer.

Kenichi Zenimura

Kenichi Zenimura is remembered as the Father of Japanese American Baseball. He played all nine positions well. As coach and manager he constantly led his teams to victory. On October 29, 1927, Zenimura's team, the Central Valley Fresno Nisei, beat Babe Ruth's all-stars 13-3. Zenimura was an international ambassador and he negotiated Babe Ruth's visit to Japan in 1934.


Zenimura baseball card.

Courtesy of Bill Staples.

Zenimura loved baseball. He founded the Nisei Baseball League throughout California in the early 1920s. At the Fresno Assembly Center he built a baseball field. In 1943 he and his sons built the Zenimura Field in Butte Camp at Gila River. The War Relocation Authority regarded the Zenimura Field as the finest of all the camp baseball diamonds. It was the only baseball field with grass, bleachers, backstop, dugouts, and castor trees for the outfield fence. Zenimura redirected water from the laundry room to water the grass on the field.

Games at Zenimura Field could draw up to 6,000 spectators. Zenimura organized thirty-two teams and three leagues at Gila River. He raised traveling funds by gate collections and selected box seats, collecting donations in coffee cans at third base and behind the backstop. The Issei love for baseball and gambling led to a lot of betting on games. Zenimura's passion and vision for baseball was contagious prior to, and during the war. Baseball at camps empowered the imprisoned with a sense of pride and hope.

- Cassidy King and James Knoblauch, Community Curators, Gosei (fifth generation Japanese American). Cassidy and James' grandmother and great-grandparents were incarcerated at Rohwer.


Left to Right: Millie Morimoto King, Community Curator. Cassidy King, Community Curator. James Knoblauch, Community Curator. Mason Seymore, DU Student Curator.