Nisei Baseball After World War II
The success of Nisei baseball teams during this period is exemplified by a story appearing in the May 10, 1949, edition of the Fresno Bee. It documents the Nisei All Stars defeating the Fresno State bulldogs by a score of 13-6 at Fresno State College Park. Although out hit 6 to 11, the All-Stars executed perfect bunts and stole 10 bases to win the game.
Fibber Hirayama and Kenshi Zenimura were the first Post War American mainlanders to play in Japan. Nisei also played a role when American Major League teams and players traveled to Japan. Cappy Harada arranged for Joe DiMaggio to give batting clinics to all the professional teams in Japan when the Yankee Clipper was on his honeymoon there with Marilyn Monroe.
Baseball Cut Across Generations
Baseball served as a "bridge" between the Issei and Nisei. It was easily accepted and comfortable for the Issei because of its popularity in Japan. Many Issei introduced the game to their peers in Sunday school as a fun and social sport that was genderless. Boys and girls participated and competed together and also formed teams. The girl's Lumbini team in Fresno played and competed with other churches in the Valley.
A close-knit community was essential for Japanese Americans in the 1920s through the 1950s. It was the primal protection of numbers that cemented their faith, relationships and family. Church and ballpark (not necessarily in that order) were strong symbols of their faith. They quietly expressed and pledged their love for God, Buddha, Jesus, or whomever they worshipped under the church's roof. In the ballpark bleachers, the Issei expressed themselves in ways that were atypical of their reserved and nonverbal manner.
On these hallowed grounds, the Nisei could in fact feel the love of their parents cheering them on to victory. Where else could Issei go to express their support, love and demonstrate verbally their passion by hollering, heckling, screaming, shouting, and on some occasions, betting with their friends? They could exhibit parental pride among the crowd. Elation, suspense, disappointment, excitement, success and failure could all be felt in one afternoon. This is exactly why baseball became the all-time favorite sport with them.
All genders could participate, and once organized teams were formed, the Issei became a league of their own. Many Issei would look to game days as "B.B.C. Day" This seemed to shed new light on the complex and multiple ways in which an immigrant community adapted and contributed towards the larger society.
Sports has played a long and important role in Japanese American communities. In response to the racial prejudice that barred most Nikkei from EuroAmerican leagues, they organized and played among and against themselves. "The importance of identity and community participation was very crucial to the survival of Japanese Americans Pre War and especially during CAMP" according to Jere Takahashi, a professor at the University of California.
"I would hope the young kids of today realize that there were people like Mr. Zenimura who were able to get together a number of Nisei and play a game that was a lot of fun," Fibber Hirayama says. "People enjoyed (it) but (baseball) also provided for other people, the fans. And I think this had an effect on the upbringing on the younger generations. The Nisei realized what was involved with the hard work. They were able to impart that on our younger generation. I hope our younger generation never forgets what the Issei and Nisei folks did to make it a better place to live in. And baseball was a part of it."
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