Entertainment Spotlight

  • Catching Up: Santana, Taj Mahal and a déjà vu ‘Blue Christmas’

    Posted by Ben Fong-Torres

    By Ben Fong-Torres It’s short shrift time. I have a life that’s ripe (and slightly wrinkled) for blogs and tweeting; for facebooking and updating. I’m just no good at it. My last column here on AsianConnections was about the memorial in late July for my sister Shirley. My last posting on the authors’ site, Redroom, was about a radio promo tour I did (20 stops, all on the phone...

Asians in the Outfield and an Attorney on the Rotisserie

Ben Fong-Torres

Can you be Chinese American ... AND a baseball fan? Plus, a highly regarded civil rights lawyer, Dale Minami, gets royally roasted.

When I'm sworn in as Governor of California oh, you didnt know I was running? I'm going to try and do something about the stupid people.

It's been several weeks now, and my sunburns just about peeled off, but I'm still smarting from a comment I got as I was walking toward Pacific Bell Park for a San Francisco Giants baseball game. Alongside, I had Richard, a brother-in-law visiting from Los Angeles. Thanks to Larry Baer, the Giants' executive VP, I'd been able to buy a pair of tickets right behind the backstop, about eight rows back from the Giants' on-deck circle.

So we were feeling pretty reet petite this Sunny San Francisco Saturday, heading up Third Street to Pac Bell, when, all of a sudden, a man standing on the street, not heading toward the ballpark, looked at my Giants baseball cap, and then at me, and yelled, "Hey, you cant be for the Giants. You Chinese!" I ignored the man, and Richard didn't hear him, but I couldn't believe it. The man was African American, and he'd unleashed a remark that hurt more than a 90 mph fast ball to the head would have.

And here we were, heading off to see a game that has, in recent years, become a true melting pot of not only African American and Latin players, but also numerous Asians, including Ichiro Suzuki, Shigetoshi Hasegawa and Kazuhiro Sasaki of the Seattle Mariners, Byung Hyun Kim of Boston, Hideki Matsui of the Yankees, Jae Weong Seo and Tsuyoshi Shinjo of the Mets, the veteran Hideo Nomo of the Dodgers, Tomo Ohka of Montreal, So Taguchi of St. Louis, and Hee Seop Choi of the Cubs. They can all play ball at the major league level, but they'd better not be in civilian clothes and wearing a Giants baseball cap, looking to do nothing more than to enjoy a few hours of the American Pastime.

Michael Chang, Champion: Speaking of Asian jocks, congratulations to Michael Chang, who's retired after a stellar, 15-year career. Earlier this year, as he began his farewell tour, Dwight Chapin of the San Francisco Chronicle profiled the 32 year-old Chang, whose hallmarks were a combination of guts, tenacity, and humility. Chapin quoted Chang: "If you're able to remember that as a professional athlete you are a role model to some people, and you realize the impact you have on their lives could be very important, you maybe take that into consideration a little more." He did, and he did himself and many others proud.

Dale Minami, Stud Muffin: Dale Minami, the civil rights attorney and an energetic supporter of numerous community causes over three decades, received the prestigious Thurgood Marshall Award from the American Bar Association at a conference in San Francisco the other weekend. A couple nights before the awards dinner, several hundred supposed friends gathered at Ozumo's, a stylish Japanese restaurant on the Embarcadero, to roast Dale to a crisp. I was one of nine friends called on to tell stories and jokes at Dale's expense. And Dale has quite an expense account. A handsome and sharply-dressed man (when he IS dressed; Minami is still remembered for his beefcake pose in a fundraising calendar of Asian hunks) with a great sense of humor and a keen eye for beautiful women, Dale was ripe for a personal luau.

And we got our digs in, beginning with a video in which several womenand one young manrecounted their encounters with Dale. The video ended with words being put into Minami's mouth, so that he was saying: "I'm so good looking I was voted one of People magazine's Most Eligible Bachelorsand even though I may have some snow up on the mountaintop, you know what I mean, I'm still very young at heart. And by that I mean, I date younger women. They keep me young, and in return, I do their homework for them. It's win-win!

Those words were voiced by the actor Greg Watanabe, who stole the roast by appearing onstage in brief, black trunks and unleashing a hilarious, melodramatic monologue detailing Minami's beginnings, as "a teentsy, weentsy" boy, and his evolution as a champion of the people (and of clients like Kristi Yamaguchi and several female TV anchors).

You had to be there. Short of that, you can peep the pre-roast video at http://medphys.mednet.ucla.edu/videolink.htm.

Aloha, Larry Ching: Larry Ching, the singer who passed away just a month after the release of his debut CD, Till the End of Time (which I produced), got a lovely sendoff in Berkeley in late July. Reflecting his Hawaiian roots, the memorial celebration included songs by Ka'ala Carmack and the Na Leo Nahenahe Chorus, of which Larry was a member, along with remembrances by his sons Michael and Phil Ching, by his friend Priscilla Fong, and from me. After Michael, himself an accomplished musician, concluded with a sprightly "Get Happy," we repaired to a reception, where Saichi Kawahara of the Kapalakiko Hawaiian Band did soulful, plaintive songs while friends looked at digital slide shows of an impossibly young Larry cavorting in Hawaii and in San Francisco's Chinatown, where he became a star vocalist at the Forbidden City nightclub.

Once more, Larry's fellow Forbidden City performers gathered to remember him, and to reminisce about the good old days. Since the memorial, Ive received more photos and souvenirs from that period, and will soon post them on the home page we built for Larry. Do visit at www.larryching.com, and enjoy the music, the photos, and the many warm stories Larry inspired. Aloha, Larry, and mahalo.