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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
"It didn't seem fair," Yamada said. "But that's just the way it
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
"Everybody understood that there was a reason for these things,"
Yamada said. "So nobody complained. It made us stronger."
* * * *
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