Family influence led to charity for Wakamatsu
ARLINGTON -- Rangers bench coach Don Wakamatsu's paternal grandparents spent World War II in a West Coast internment camp.
When the war was over, Jim and Ruth Wakamatsu bought a 40-acre fruit farm in Hood River, Ore., east of Portland along the Columbia River. The farm is still owned by the family and producing cherries, pears, peaches and apples.
Wakamatsu's parents -- Leland and Sandra -- are retired, living on the farm and still making it work. When Wakamatsu was young, he helped on the farm with his father and grandparents during the summer, although Leland worked in construction most of the year in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Wakamatsu has great memories of working with his father and grandfather, which he shared on Father's Day weekend.
"I actually delivered fruit with my grandfather," Wakamatsu said. "We used to pick peaches, pears and cherries, pack them in a barn, load them on a flatbed truck and drive an hour to Portland and peddle them out of the back to supermarkets and grocery stores. We used to have to change sprinklers, we'd pick fruit. We had to organize some of the farm hands and laborers, drive a tractor, load bins. We did everything."
Wakamatsu still goes to Oregon in the offseason to help out on the farm. Last winter, he was struck with an inspiration of how he could connect the farm to the WakWay Foundation, which he started a few years ago.
The original idea of the foundation was to help direct young players to get involved in community projects that they were passionate about. But the farm in Oregon showed Wakamatsu how he could take the foundation into a larger and more meaningful direction.
"I had been trying to tie what we're doing with the Foundation and the farm," Wakamatsu said. "Last year, it really hit home. There was about a five-acre block of cherries. I asked what they were doing with them, and they said nothing. These were huge Rainier cherries. It hit me, what a waste, and we've had that farm in the family for years. Kind of going downhill and struggling to keep the legacy of the farm together. There was a lot of food going to waste."
Wakamatsu realized there were thousands of low-income children who could benefit from that food if he could deliver it to them.
The answer was to direct his foundation toward addressing child hunger in low income and disadvantaged neighborhoods with a focus on nutrition and healthy eating. The perfect place to benefit those efforts is the Texas Rangers MLB Youth Academy at the Mercy Street Sports Complex.
Wakamatsu is partnering with the Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation, Major League Baseball and the foundation's corporate sponsors to provide nutritional food to the children who use the academy. He is hoping to expand the program to MLB Academies in Compton, Calif., and Kansas City.
"My thing is not only malnutrition, but obesity," Wakamatsu said. "This is something I think I can utilize what I have done in baseball and what we can do to give back to kids in the inner cities. There is nothing going on with the food side. I think we are missing the boat. We provide these phenomenal facilities, but we aren't feeding them so they aren't developing the way they should."
Using what would have been wasted fruit and produce from the family farm in Oregon is just a start. Wakamatsu and his corporate sponsors are busy raising money to provide food for an ever-expanding, aggressive nutritional program. One Arizona group has promised 100,000 pounds of food grown in Southern California and Mexico.
The next big fundraiser for the foundation will be the First Base Bash charity night on July 1 at the Southlake Hilton, with country music singer Casey Donahew headlining the entertainment. Rangers players and coaches will also be there with a memorabilia auction to benefit the hunger initiatives.
The goal is to raise enough money for 2,500 lunches, 2,500 dinners and 100,000 pounds of fruits, vegetables and snacks. Tickets for the bash can be obtained at www.WakWay.org.
"If this goes as well as we think, we'll target Compton next, and hopefully Kansas City," Wakamatsu said. "Eventually, we would like to target all nine academies -- eight in the United States and one in Puerto Rico. There is a big audience out there for this."