Brain Ball:

How the Asahi Changed the Game​

Although the Asahi began as a youth team, they developed into a senior league that entered first the amateur Vancouver International League where they won the 1919 championship, then the Vancouver City League in 1920, and the Vancouver Terminal League in 1921. The Asahi did well, even winning the 1926 Terminal League Championship, their first major championship win.

Despite their early success, it was a different story when the Asahi joined the Vancouver Senior League (VSL) in 1927. The Asahi played three seasons in the VSL, finishing each season last in the league. Their sudden struggles were a combination of discriminatory umpiring and Anglo-Canadian players utilizing power-hitting which the Asahi, as generally smaller and less powerful hitters, could not compete with.

The Vancouver Asahi at the Terminal League Championships, at Athletic Park; Vancouver, BC; August 8, 1926. Source: Nikkei National Museum
The Vancouver Asahi at the Terminal League Championships, at Athletic Park; Vancouver, BC; August 8, 1926. Source: Nikkei National Museum. In the back row (left to right): Eddie Kitagawa, Sally Nakamura, Reggie Yasui, Junji Ito, Tom Miyata, Mickey Sato, Tom Matoba, Charlie Tanaka, Harry Miyasaki (MGR). In the front row (left to right): George Kato, Ty Suga, Roy Yamamura, Roy Nishidera, Frank Nakamura, Yo Horii.
In 1930, the Asahi returned to the Vancouver Terminal League, and Harry Miyasaki ( former Asahi player turned manager) had a plan to turn the Asahi’s apparent faults into assets. Miyasaki’s strategy aimed to counter the hard-hitting approach of Anglo-Canadian teams by focusing on speed and defense. The Asahi would bunt, steal bases, and strategize getting men on base, as opposed to trying for home-run like their opponents. This new strategy, called “Brain Ball” by the Vancouver Press quickly led the Asahi to success. Not only did this style make the Asahi extremely popular among baseball fans for creating thrilling games to watch, but it won them the Terminal League Championship in 1930, 1932 and 1933, the Pacific Northwest Championship five years in a row (1937-1941), among many others.
1932 Pacific Northwest Championship Baseball Trophy, on display at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Training and discipline were very important to the Asahi, and the team maintained such a high level of excellence for so many years because of their regimental training and because of their farm system. The Asahi had three levels of youth teams of incremental ages who trained to eventually join the Senior team and play in the professional leagues.
Asahi Youth Farm Teams in 1920
Asahi Youth Farm Teams in 1920, posing on the corner of Powell and Dunlevy streets in front of the backstop on Powell Grounds. Mickey Maikawa is in the back row; he went on to join the Senior level Asahi in 1928 and was a part of the 1930 Terminal League winning team. Source: Nikkei National Museum.
Baseball autographed by Kiyoshi Suga
Baseball autographed by Kiyoshi Suga, younger brother of Ty Suga, the Asahi’s most prominent pitcher. Kiyoshi was a bat boy for the Vancouver Asahi at age 10 and eventually became official scorer and secretary of the Asahi Baseball Club. Kiyoshi was a survivor of the Japanese Internment Camps and went on to form the Nisei baseball team in Montreal. Source: The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum Collection.