"There ain't much to being a ballplayer...if you're a ballplayer". Hall of Famer, Hornus Wagner

 

Over the intercom of the 767 the pilot announced, "Ladies and Gentleman, I'd like to welcome the Nisei Baseball Pioneers who are headed for the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown." A thunderous applause erupted for our delegation of heroes headed for their day of recognition. The 3,000 mile journey ended for these 15 Nisei (second generation Japanese American) ballplayers as they entered the small village of Cooperstown, New York. " I always thought that 'Nisei,' meant 'great baseball player' in Japanese," said Ken Wallenberg, a former scout for the New York Yankees. " All the ones I knew certainly fit that description."

 

I witnessed wave after wave of Grandfather, son and grandson; Grandmother, daughter and granddaughter take their walk of passage into the 'mecca' of Baseball, The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. This is a church like building that houses a treasure trove of history, stories and artifacts that have been passed on from generation to generation. As you reverently pass the images in the Wall of Fame Gallery, you almost feel the spirits of Jackie Robinson, Lou Gehrig, Casey Stengle, greeting you.You marvel at the taped baseball that Babe Ruth made in reform school, Ty Cobb's sliding pads, Shoeless Joe Jackson's cleats, Roberto Clemente's bat that delivered his 3,000 (and last) hit, Mickey Mantle's ball that was driven 565 feet....treasures never end.

 

Leagues of their own.

Standing in front of the facades of city streets and buildings is Josh Gibson. This Negro League legend was the only ballplayer ever to hit a ball out of Yankee Stadium. Josh and all of the legends of the Negro Leagues are part of the 'Pride and Passion: The African American Baseball Experience. Turn the corner and you encounter the All American Girls story. This permanent exhibit chronicles the history of the Women's leagues and displays their lineup of Women who impacted the game. Completing this trinity of stories and history of inclusion within the context of exclusion is our exhibit, 'Diamonds In the Rough,' Japanese Americans in Baseball. I am so proud that this 'Hidden Legacy,' and missing chapter in American Baseball history started here in Fresno and in 21 months, has returned to Baseball's sacred grounds for the global audiences to acknowledge and appreciate.

Top of the Mountain

Fifteen former prewar players recently attended a packed dedication ceremony in the Hall of Fame Grandstand theater. All were in their 80's and one player, Harry 'Tar' Shirachi, from Salinas, is 90 years young. "My kid's really wanted me to be here to represent all women who played," said Alice Hinaga Taketa, an all star of the Women's Night Leagues back in the 30's. Players representing, Southern, Northern California and even Cheyenne, Wyoming made their 'anointed' journey along with 50 relatives and friends from the West Coast. Shig Tokumoto, of Hanford, (they named a Baseball stadium after him), and my Uncle Lefty Nishijima ( he pitched against Jackie Robinson in 1937) were our proud Valley delegates. It truly hit home as I listened to the Hall of Fame officials speak so eloquently of our history, culture and one of the most compelling components... Americans keeping the All American pastime alive..even behind barbed wire. As I reached the podium to speak, I always felt baseball was all about voices, moments and memories that hang in your mind file forever and this was a significant special time to relish. I gazed out at our Nisei players dressed in their uniforms. They had this effervescent energy like little leaguers possess, and it is amazing how a baseball can turn back the clock for any ballplayer. After acknowledging all the support from so many organizations and people that helped to bring our exhibition to Cooperstown, I read off my list of players in the 'Diamond Stadium in the Sky,' and I know they were with us this day. The last player named was my Dad, he once pitched a no-hitter in eighth grade, but never got to play with the Nisei ballplayers. He never got to proudly wear a Nisei uniform, because he was too busy working to keep our family farm going. My Dad was 45 when I was born and we didn't play alot of catch when I got older, but I really savored every moment when we did play.

Slice of heaven

I never felt his presence more than that day in the Grandstand Theater. Well Dad, you made it to the Hall of Fame with me....it was a slice of heaven on that magical day in Cooperstown.

As the players headed for the bus outside the Museum, a light snow started to come down. It felt like Christmas again...and for all the parties involved with this Cooperstown dynamic, this was a very special present that our culture and history was given.

Kerry Yo Nakagawa

 

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