By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS, Rafu Sports Editor
It was a truly unique event July 29 at the Tateuchi Democracy Forum, one that not so many years ago would have been fairly unthinkable.
The Japanese American National Museum hosted a discussion with five staff members from the L.A. Dodgers, all of whom share a common bond: they are all of Japanese heritage.
“I have to admit I feel a sense of responsibility, because so many people are counting on me,” said Dave Roberts, who was born in Okinawa and is the first African American manager in the history of the Dodgers. “I feel if I don’t do things the right way, so many people will be affected.”
Roberts is the only manager of Asian descent in major league history to lead his team to a World Series championship, and became only the second Black manager to win a title when the Dodgers took it all in 2020.
He was joined in the chat by Director of Team Travel Scott Akasaki, Director of Integrative Baseball Performance Emilee Fragapane, Performance Operations Manager Will Ireton, and broadcaster Stephen Nelson.
“Kids today can see Asian players in MLB, at the top level, maybe a Rookie of the Year, in the dugout,” Akasaki said. “That didn’t exist not that long ago. Now they see that representation and that’s vitally important.”
Fragapane, who grew up in the rural Northern California town of Jackson, said when she joined the Dodgers’ staff 11 years ago, there were precious few women to look up to in the big leagues.
“It’s great that there are more women in sports, but I want to see not only representation, but also that we can have more of a meaningful impact,” she said.
If there was an elephant in the room during the discussion, it was amusingly referenced in a question from an audience member who was asking about the Dodgers scouting local Asian American talent.
“Have you looked into, for example, a player from Orange County?” he asked, making a thinly veiled hint at the Dodgers acquiring the Angels’ soon-to-be-free agent Shohei Ohtani.
Speaking cautiously so as to not interfere with another team’s contracted players, Nelson said he was amazed at watching Ohtani play in this year’s World Baseball Classic.
“Shohei Ohtani is the greatest player this generation has ever seen,” Nelson insisted. “We should all marvel in that.”
Photos by MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo