Historic WWII-era baseball game celebrated as a model of American sportsmanship
FRESNO, CA. – (May 2, 2006) The Nisei Baseball Research Project (NBRP) is proud to announce that the legendary Gila River Butte High Eagles and state-champion Tucson High Badgers baseball teams will reunite 61 years after their historic meeting in Rivers, Arizona – the Japanese-American internment camp on the Gila River Indian Community.
Both teams are scheduled to receive special recognition through events sponsored by the NBRP, Tucson High alumni organizations and the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame (PCSHF). Preliminary activities include recognition of both teams on August 13 during “Hall of Fame Night” at Tucson Electric Park, home of the Tucson Sidewinders, Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and a special award presentation during the PCSHF Annual Banquet on October 15.
The ceremonial first pitch for the “Hall of Fame Night” game will be thrown by the starting pitchers for both 1945 squads, the Eagles’ Tets Furakawa, 78, of Fresno, CA, and the Badgers’ Lowell Bailey, 78, of Phoenix.
The legendary Eagles vs. Badgers game occurred on April 18, 1945, and was later described by head coach Kenichi Zenimura as “one of the most thrilling chapters in the history of Butte (Gila River) baseball.”
As for the game itself, the Eagles defeated the three-time state champions Badgers 11-10 in ten innings. Afterwards, both teams displayed an impressive level of respect and sportsmanship by sharing a post-game meal and sumo-wrestling lessons. Weeks later, head coaches Zenimura and Hank Slagle attempted to schedule a rematch in Tucson. Unfortunately, their request was denied by local authorities.
Zenimura’s disappointment with the cancellation was echoed by Slagle, who later wrote, “I sincerely hope it won’t be too long till we are all thinking straight again and can live together in a true Democracy that we Americans of all races have created.”
This single ballgame – played during a time when the nation was deeply divided by war – has become an important symbol of American brotherhood and goodwill. It also demonstrates how athletics help transcend barriers created by language, race, religion, and politics.
Learn more about this legendary game and how to participate in the upcoming reunion events.