Ryan Kurosaki (1952–)
Ryan Yoshimoto Kurosaki, the first American of Japanese descent to play in the major leagues, is a former professional baseball player and firefighter from Honolulu, Hawaii. In 1974, he signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Cardinals, making his major league debut on May 20, 1975. He pitched for the Cardinals for one season but spent most of his career with minor league teams, first in Modesto, California, and then with the Arkansas Travelers, the Naranjeros de Hermosillo in Mexico, and the Springfield Redbirds in Springfield, Illinois. In the fall of 1980, Kurosaki retired from baseball and moved to Benton (Saline County).
Ryan Yoshimoto Kurosaki was born on July 3, 1952, in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Katsuto Kurosaki and Eleanor Toshiko Fujii Kurosaki. Katsuto Kurosaki took his two sons to American Japanese Association baseball games to watch local teams like the Islanders play against each other. Kurosaki’s older brother Neal played for the University of Hawaii. While a student at Kalani High School, Ryan Kurosaki helped his team, the Kalani Falcons, win the state championship in 1970. He was the team’s star pitcher, earning a 6–0 record with a 1.68 earned run average.
In 1971, Kurosaki accepted a full scholarship to play with the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers. At the time, the University of Nebraska was known more for its football program, and Kurosaki received one of just two baseball scholarships that year.
In the summer of 1973, Kurosaki was spotted by a major league talent scout from the St. Louis Cardinals during the National Baseball Congress (NBC) tournament in Liberal, Kansas. In 1974, Byron Humphreys of the Cardinals signed Kurosaki as a free agent for a reported $6,000. He played in the California League in Modesto for the entire 1974 season and then was brought up to play with the Arkansas Travelers. The 1975 season began with Kurosaki as a relief pitcher for the Travelers.
On May 20, 1975, Kurosaki made his major league debut when he was called to pitch for St. Louis against San Diego. He pitched one and two-thirds innings, striking out one batter and walking three. He pitched thirteen innings that season for the St. Louis Cardinals before being sent back to Arkansas. In 1977, he remained with the Travelers playing AA baseball and in 1978 played for the Travelers and AAA Springfield. Kurosaki injured his pitching arm while playing in the winter of the 1978–79 season with the Naranjeros de Hermosillo.
After the injury, Kurosaki continued playing for another two years, but his arm never fully recovered. On September 23, 1978, he married Arkansas native Sandra McGee in Little Rock (Pulaski County). They had three sons: Jason, Drew, and Aaron. In 1979, Kurosaki played for the Springfield Redbirds in Springfield, Illinois, but returned to Little Rock for most of 1980.
In the fall of 1980, Kurosaki retired to Benton in Saline County, where his sons went to school. He began working for the Benton Fire Department, and on July 6, 1982, he joined the Little Rock Fire Department. In April 1996, Kurosaki was invited to throw the ceremonial first pitch for the Arkansas Travelers at Ray Winder Field in Little Rock. On July 17, 2014, he retired as a captain in the Little Rock Fire Department after thirty-two years of service.
For additional information:
Bailey, Jim. “Kurosaki Played Fireman.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 16, 1996, p. 4C.
The Command Post (Little Rock Fire Department newsletter) 5, no. 1 (November 2014): 2.
Nakagawa, Kerry Yo. Japanese-American Baseball in California: A History. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2014.
“Ryan Kurosaki.” The Baseball Cube. http://www.thebaseballcube.com/players/profile.asp?ID=13997 (accessed September 25, 2018).
Cody Lynn Berry
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