"Back in Little League, they wouldn't let you wear a chest protector without a flap, but I didn't know that and I kept telling my dad I wanted one without the flap," the Mariners' first-year manager recalled. "He didn't know, so one Christmas he went out and bought me a brand new set of gear, and the first time I broke it out, I couldn't use it."
The mask, mitt and shin guards were fine, but for a 12-year-old old catcher in Little League, the protective flap on the chest protector, which helped prevent pitches or foul balls from causing great pain, was mandatory.
"Funny thing is, you had to wear the flap when you were 12, but not when you were 13," he said, laughing. "I guess they considered you a grown man at 13. I jumped the gun a little."
Wakamatsu followed the rules and developed into a terrific catcher, working his way through high school, college at Arizona State and eventually into the pros, where he spent most of his career in the Minor Leagues. His big league career consisted of 18 games with the White Sox in 1991.
The Major League's first Asian-American manager has fond memories of the Christmas holidays when he was growing up in Hood River, Ore., located east of Portland along the Columbia River Gorge. He and his old brother frolicked in the snow that was normal for this time of year, but always looked ahead to the next baseball season.
He recently shared some old memories, and some newer ones with his own children, Jake (16), Luke (12) and Jadyn (10), with MLB.com.
If you could be talked into sitting on Santa's lap, what would you ask the bearded one for Christmas?
Wakamatsu: I would ask for more time with my family.
When you were growing up, what was a typical Christmas like in the Wakamatsu family?
Christmas morning was probably the only day of the year when my brother and I got up before our parents. The most memorable ones were those we spent in Oregon because we had a chance to be in the snow. That made it seem more like Christmas. We'd go out and do the sledding stuff with our cousins.
MLB.com: Were you a family that opened gifts on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day?
Wakamatsu: My brother and I were pretty good at talking our parents into letting us open one present on Christmas Eve. We'd bug 'em and bug 'em until they would let us open one apiece. But they always gave us one big present, and they would never let us open the big boy until Christmas morning.
MLB.com: Aside from the baseball gear, did you ever ask for something else, like a bike?
Wakamatsu: Oh yeah, and I got a 10-speed bike when I was probably 10 years old. That was special. And when I was 13, I think, our parents bought me and my brother twin motorcycles. That was a big deal for us. We did a lot of motorcycle riding up there in Hood River.
MLB.com: As a parent, what are your Christmases like now?
Wakamatsu: It's a little different now with the kids being older, but you really get into it when they are younger, starting at 2 or 3, when they start to realize Santa is out there and he's coming to our house. That's a neat deal. Just to see the expression on their faces is something else.
MLB.com: Where are you going to spend Christmas this year?
Wakamatsu: We're thinking about going up to Breckenridge (Colo.) for a family skiing vacation.
MLB.com: What is your favorite Christmas song?
Wakamatsu: I am more conventional, so probably "White Christmas."
MLB.com: When you were growing up, did you ever participate in Christmas plays at the school or church?
Wakamatsu: No, I have absolutely no acting talent. I had to stick to doing things with my hands. I tried to avoid all those things the best I could. I knew my limitations.
MLB.com: Is there a tradition you had in your family growing up that has carried over to your own family?
Wakamatsu: Most of them are food-related, but one of the more sentimental things is to show just how fortunate we are, and we want to make sure that our kids respect what they receive. That's a neat thing for me. Not that I came from a family that was poor, but to be able to give things without losing sight of what Christmas is all about is pretty neat.