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QUEENS COLLEGE BASEBALL PREVIEW / Blending of Two Cultures / Coach

Yuki Yamada, Queens College's first-year baseball

coach, is believed

to be the first Japanese-born coach in NCAA baseball history.

This much is for sure: Yamada has some hard-to-believe stories about

growing up playing Little League baseball in Osaka, Japan.

"We were taught that baseball is a team sport," said Yamada, 28, who

moved to Bayside with his parents when he was 10. "In Japan, if one

player made a mental error, then the whole team had to suffer. They

would line us up on a baseline. We had to stick our butts toward the

coach, and he would hit each one of us with the bat. And Whack! And then

we had to thank him."

Imagine this in an American Little League? "No way," Yamada said.

"Too many lawsuits."

Yamada, who replaced retired Ed Tatarian, the Knights' coach for

seven years, said he has taken much of the disciplinary aspects of the

Japanese game with him. But he was pleased to see the more relaxed

American approach.

"I'm trying to combine both Japanese and American aspects of the

game," Yamada said. "If you are disciplined, focused and serious about

what you do, you will be successful. But still, I've learned you can

have fun."

Yamada said there was a time the game wasn't fun. In Japan, he

played baseball seven days a week, including after school, which ran

from Monday through Saturday. On Saturdays, he'd play from 2 to 9 p.m.

On Sunday, tournaments lasted from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.

He remembers the day he arrived in New York: April 23, 1982. The

next day, he signed to play with the Flushing Little Giants, a

Japanese-American travel team. Two days later, he tried out for the

Bayside Little League.

He was named a Newsday All-City shortstop at Bayside High School,

which led to a full scholarship to Queens, where he played seven

positions for Tatarian. He later assisted Tatarian for five years. Last

year, Queens advanced to the NCAA Division II regionals for the first

time, and had three players - the first three in the history of the

school - drafted by major-league teams. A fourth signed as a free

agent.

All of which makes Yamada's job a bit more challenging. Queens is

off to a 4-6 start, 2-2 in the NYCAC.

"[Tatarian] was like a father to me," Yamada said. "I just hope I

can continue with what he accomplished here."

The NCAA does not keep records of the ethnic backgrounds of its

coaches. However, University of Hawaii coach Les Murakami, a

third-generation Japanese-American who became the first coach of

Japanese descent to head a college team when he started the Rainbows'

program in 1971, said he knows of only four other Japanese coaches, none

of whom were born in Japan.

Murakami, a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association,

said Allan Sato (Hawaii Pacific), David Nakama (San Francisco State),

Joey Estrella (Hawaii-Hilo) and Sunny Gollowoy (Oral Roberts) all have

Japanese backgrounds, with Estrella and Golloway being half-Japanese.

"I take pride in the fact that I am Japanese," Yamada said. "But I

didn't realize any of this until someone mentioned it to me. It makes me

happy."

Queens rightfielder Brad Beamer, a junior, said he considers Yamada

a players' coach. "Are you kidding me?" he said when told Yamada's

stories. "That's crazy. Coach isn't tight at all. He doesn't make you

nervous. He just wants things done the right way."

Which is why his team's early struggles are so frustrating. "We're

making three to five errors a game," Yamada said. "I don't ask for

spectacular, diving plays. But we need to be fundamentally sound. We

need to be consistent."

The pitching staff, decimated by the losses of Mike Russo (Royals)

and Brian McGowan (Tigers), needs senior lefthander Greg Jeffries to be

an ace.

"At first, his mind was somewhere else, because many of his friends

had been drafted," Yamada said of the 6-5, 240-pound Jeffries. "But he's

come on. Every time he's out there, we have to win."

Righthanders Nick Simone, a Nassau CC transfer, and James

Frascatore, a New York Tech transfer, round out the rotation.

"This is my last hurrah," said Frascatore, who hopes to play

professional baseball, like his brother John, who pitches for the

Cardinals.

The Knights have a completely new infield, a new catcher and a new

centerfielder. "That's a lot of new," Yamada said.

Centerfielder Justin Davies (Blue Jays) and catcher Rob Dito (Expos)

left. The top returning everyday players are senior third baseman Mike

Mangieri, who played first base and hit .340 with 10 homers last

season, and Beamer, who hit .321 and stole 13 bases.

Another major change is the NYCAC's decision to switch from aluminum

bats to wood, a decision that didn't help the team in three early-season

games in Savannah, Ga. Their opponents used aluminum. Queens stuck with

wood.

"It didn't seem fair," Yamada said. "But that's just the way it

went."

Just like when Yamada played baseball in Japan, despite snowfall. Or

when, at age 6, he and his teammates had to spend the last half hour of

practice cleaning the fields before bowing to the infield dirt. Or when

he had to stand before his coach after each at-bat and thank him for a

verbal lashing.

"Everybody understood that there was a reason for these things,"

Yamada said. "So nobody complained. It made us stronger."

* * * *

SCHEDULE

Date Team Time

March 31 at Molloy 3 p.m.

April 1 SACRED HEART 3 p.m.

April 2 DOWLING Noon

April 3 at Dowling (2) Noon

April 7 at So. Conn. St. 3:30 p.m.

April 10 at St. Rose (2) Noon

April 11 at St. Rose Noon

April 13 at Stony Brook 3:30 p.m.

April 14 DOMINICAN 3:30 p.m.

April 17 at Adelphi (2) Noon

April 18 ADELPHI Noon

April 24 at Concordia (2) Noon

April 25 CONCORDIA Noon

April 27 at William Paterson 3:30 p.m.

April 30 NYCAC tournament TBA

May 1 NYCAC tournament TBA

May 2 NYCAC tournament TBA

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