Thursday, January 8, 2015

Portrait: Masao “Mas” Iriyama

I met Maso "Mas" Iriyama in October, 2014 at the "Return to Heart Mountain: A Celebration of Japanese American Baseball" event hosted by the Japanese-American Museum of San Jose. The event was organized by the Nisei Baseball Research Project.

"Masao was an all-star on any team in any league. Masao and his brother Noboru were baseball legends in the Guadalupe region. While Masao was batting .400 for his Tule Lake California team in a Detention Camp, his brother was killed in action flying over Tokyo for the Sho-en Koku-Hei"

Photo by Andy Frazer
Mas grew up in the farming community of Guadalupe, CA. In 1939 he attended Santa Maria High School. Since he didn't speak English, he found baseball provided an international language where he was accepted by his peers. After high school, Mas played in the Nikkei League, which was organized by the Young Mens' Buddhist Association (YMBA).

In April 1942, at the age of 20, Mas' family was evacuated to the Tulare Assembly Center, which was built on the Tulare County Fairgrounds. Many of his baseball teammates' families had been evacuated to the same assembly center, where they organized their own softball league.

In October of 1942, Mas' family was moved to the Gila River War Relocation Center. The baseball players at Gila River were organized into ten teams, most were organized around their pre-War lineups. Baseball games were a huge form of entertainment at Gila River. Although teams occasionally practiced during the week, official games were only played on weekends.

Mas was later transferred to the Tule Lake Detention Center for the remainder of the war.

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