OAKLAND, Calif. — Twenty-five years after he left the East Bay to pursue a career in baseball, Don Wakamatsu has come home — literally. The Oakland Athletics first-year bench coach has moved back in with his parents.
Though his mom no longer drives him to the ball park in the family station wagon, Wakamatsu is clearly enjoying his old stomping grounds.
“It was a no-brainer,” said the 45-year-old Wakamatsu who was a star player in baseball, football and basketball at Hayward High in the early 1980s. “They live right here in the area—who wouldn’t want to spend more time with their parents?”
Since school has been let out in North Richland Hills, Texas, where Wakamatsu maintains his permanent residence, he has been joined in the Bay Area by his wife Laura and their three children.
Wakamatsu, who is of Japanese descent, spent the past five seasons on the Texas Rangers coaching staff. The ex-catcher nearly made history last season when he was a finalist for the Rangers managerial opening.
Wakamatsu’s goal remains to become the first ever Asian American to be the skipper on a major league squad.
“I think no matter what, the right person has to be hired for the job,” Wakamatsu said. “But I would cherish the chance to be that guy that paves the road for others.”
Coming to Oakland has provided Wakamatsu both a fresh start and a chance to revisit his roots.
“It’s fantastic to step into an organization that has track record of winning—especially in an area where I have so many great memories,” Wakamatsu said. “I hadn’t been back in the Bay Area here for any length of time in about 25 years. The people have gotten a little older, but it feels like yesterday.”
After graduating from Hayward High in 1981, Wakamatsu embarked on a travelogue-worthy career. As a player, he made stops at Arizona State University and half a dozen professional organizations. He reached the big league and played in 18 games with the Chicago White Sox in 1991.
Since retiring as a player in 1996, Wakamatsu turned to instruction. He’s managed at all levels of the minor leagues and worked in player development with several organizations. He was a member of the Rangers coaching staff from 2003 to 2007.
Though the Rangers passed on Wakamatsu for their managerial opening last season—the position went to former A’s coach Ron Washington—the Rangers thought so highly of Wakamatsu that they convinced him to stay as one of Washington’s coaches.
“I stayed for a couple of different reasons. My family and a chance to learn under another manager,” Wakamatsu said.
Though he was away from his family for a few months, coming to a rebuilding Oakland team was an opportunity Wakamatsu could not pass up.
“My first love is trying to get kids to the big leagues and helping them stay here,” he said. “And we have so many young guys on the verge of busting out. It’s very exciting time in Oakland.”
One player the former catcher has worked closely in Oakland is 24-year-old catcher Kurt Suzuki, who besides sharing the same position as the coach is also Japanese American.
“What I saw of him last year from afar and thinking that I could help him positively—that was a big reason why I came over here,” Wakamatsu said. “We’ve built a great relationship. Kurt knows there’s a lot he still needs to learn, but his work ethic is off the charts.”