“Rebuilding Home Plate,” the exhibit at the Arizona Heritage Center educates the public about the legacy of Japanese American baseball in Arizona, especially during WWII. While it is comprehensive, one important person missing from the exhibit is Tom Ikeda of Mesa, Arizona. Tsutomu “Tom” Ikeda was born in 1917 in Mesa, and was the eldest of nine children of Japanese immigrants. Tom Ikeda could speak little English when he was in elementary school, but through hard work that characterized his life, he became a very good student at Mesa High School where he played baseball, football and track. He earned a baseball scholarship to the University of Arizona, but had to turn it down to help support his family.
Tom and his family had a difficult time during World War II, but fortunately were not incarcerated as were so many Japanese Americans. Following the War, Tom started buying land in Mesa and became a highly successful farmer and real estate developer. He was extremely civic-minded and believed in giving back to his community and helping others. Because of his interest in sports, he was involved in bringing Major League Baseball teams to Arizona for Spring Training and was instrumental in persuading Japanese professional teams like the Tokyo Giants and Hanshin Tigers to train in Mesa.
In addition to serving as President of the JACL-AZ chapter, he was a charter member and President of the Mesa Junior Chamber of Commerce, chaired the Mesa Red Cross, was on the YMCA and United Way Boards, was “Big Ho” of the HoHoKams, and President of the Mesa Baseline Rotary.
A supporter of the arts, the Ikeda family made a million dollar gift in 2003 to the Mesa Performing Arts Center where a 1,600-seat state-of-the-art theater is named in honor of Tom and Janet Ikeda.
Source: Mesa Community College Sports, https://mesatbirdsports.com/fan_zone/Tsutomu_Ikeda