What A Catch: Before Fishing, The Izumi’s Were A Baseball Family
The name Izumi is synonymous with fishing, but it wasn’t always this way. In fact, at one point in history, when people discussed the Izumi family’s sport involvement, it likely had to do with baseball.
Satoshi (Joe) Izumi was born on Vancouver Island near Chemainus on the shores of Cowichan Bay. Fishing was indeed his love, but after stepping ashore, Joe and his brothers – Kaname (Harry), Mitsuo (Roy), and Haruo (Herbie) – would put on their uniforms and gloves, and step onto the baseball diamond.
Harry and Joe were the oldest, and first to join the Chemainus Nippons in 1935. The Nippons were an all-Japanese Canadian team playing in various Vancouver Island leagues. Like almost all Japanese Canadians in the era, they’d watched the Vancouver Asahi team, who are members of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, and fell in love with the game.
Soon after, Mits (Roy) joined the Nippons, and quickly became one of the star players on Vancouver Island. Mits would play on predominantly white teams as well as the Nippons, including the Duncan Cubs and Chemainus’ Senior team.
In their final season together, Joe and Satoshi no longer suited up for the Nippons, but their youngest brother, Herbie, joined the roster.
The brothers played for the Chemainus Nippons until the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. From here, they were forcefully dispersed from their homes, with Mits and Joe being sent to work camps in Ontario, and Harry and Herbie being brought internment camps in British Columbia’s interior.
Even during internment, baseball remained part of the Izumi family.
At Lemon Creek internment camp in British Columbia’s Slocan Valley, Herbie Izumi would play for the Lemon Creek All-Stars. In 1943, the team travelled to various camps to compete, and eventually won the Slocan Valley Championship. The team that season was coached by former Vancouver Asahi pitcher Kenichi “Ty” Suga.
The Japanese Asahi are, aside from the Chatham Coloured All-Stars, the best known racialized baseball team in Canadian history. Established in 1914, the Asahi’s, who played at the Powell Street Grounds in Vancouver, were a collection of Japanese Canadian All-Stars in the Vancouver and Fraser Valley areas. Playing in the Vancouver Industrial League, the Asahi won successive championships beginning in 1922, and from 1937 onward, the team won five consecutive Pacific Northwest Championships.
Following the War, the Izumi family settled in the Toronto and Hamilton areas.
Herbie and his brother Mits joined an all-Japanese baseball team Hamilton, the Hamilton Nisei baseball team, which was managed by another Asahi star, Roy Yamamura.
Joe Izumi also got back into baseball playing in the Nisei League for a recreational Japanese Canadian team in Christie Pits, which became like a centre for Japanese Canadians in Toronto during the late 1940s.
A decade later in 1957, Joe Izumi moved to Blenheim, Ontario with his wife Maragaret, and two young children, Lynn and Wayne Izumi. Shortly thereafter, they welcomed two more children, Georgina and Bob Izumi to the world.
The family would become one of the most famous fishing families in the world. Not only did each of the kids take turns winning the Rondeau Rod and Gun Club fishing derby, but Wayne and Bob would build a fishing empire, which included Bob Izumi’s Real Fishing television show and magazine, and saw them win more than 70 professional bass fishing tournaments.
Joe Izumi, who would also found Canada’s first bass fishing tournament on Rondeau Bay, stayed involved in baseball in Blenheim. He coached his son Wayne, who was described as the “athlete of the family” in the 1960s, and also got his daughters Lynn and Georgina into the game.
He coordinated a competitive league in the area, and was an avid spectator of local baseball games until his passing in 1981.
Known for fishing, the Izumi family has always been able to catch their target, whether it’s a large mouth bass, or a fly ball.
Ian Kennedy is the founder of the Chatham-Kent Sports Network, and a regular contributor for The Hockey News, Chatham Voice, Outdoor Canada and Canadian Horse Journal. His book “On Account of Darkness: Shining Light on Race and Sport” will be published this spring through Tidewater Press.