Transpacific Field of Dreams: How Baseball Linked the United States and Japan in Peace and War

Transpacific Field of Dreams: How Baseball Linked the United States and Japan in Peace and War

Transpacific Field of Dreams: How Baseball Linked the United States and Japan in Peace and War

Transpacific Field of Dreams: How Baseball Linked the United States and Japan in Peace and War

Synopsis

Baseball has joined America and Japan, even in times of strife, for over 150 years. After the "opening" of Japan by Commodore Perry, Sayuri Guthrie-Shimizu explains, baseball was introduced there by American employees of the Japanese government tasked with bringing Western knowledge and technology to the country, and Japanese students in the United States soon became avid players. In the early twentieth century, visiting Japanese warships fielded teams that played against American teams, and a Negro League team arranged tours to Japan. By the 1930s, professional baseball was organized in Japan where it continued to be played during and after World War II; it was even played in Japanese American internment camps in the United States during the war.
From early on, Guthrie-Shimizu argues, baseball carried American values to Japan, and by the mid-twentieth century, the sport had become emblematic of Japan's modernization and of America's growing influence in the Pacific world. Guthrie-Shimizu contends that baseball provides unique insight into U.S.-Japanese relations during times of war and peace and, in fact, is central to understanding postwar reconciliation. In telling this often surprising history, Transpacific Field of Dreams shines a light on globalization's unlikely, and at times accidental, participants.

Excerpt

“Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball,” Jacques Barzun famously wrote in 1954. Thus the French-born scholar of American culture identified baseball’s unique place in American life. Barzun’s paean to baseball has been so often quoted that it may almost sound like a cliché, yet its very staying power is an index of the evocative and even visceral qualities of the game’s connections to some inner core of American civilization. But is it the heart and mind of America alone that baseball has made us privy to? How about the hearts and minds of others outside the territorial borders of the United States who also pledged emotional allegiance to this game of bats and balls? After all, parallel baseball universes existed elsewhere in the world at the very time the game was establishing itself as postbellum America’s nationally played sport, as many baseball scholars, Peter Bjarkman foremost among them, have copiously documented. Cubans began taking enthusiastically to baseball in the 1860s after a cohort of youngsters returning from schooling in the United States brought their passion for the game to the Caribbean island under Spanish colonial rule. By the early 1870s, Cuba’s first professional team, the Habana Baseball Club, had been organized, and by the decade’s end, the first professional league was in place. That was contemporaneous with the formation of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (NAPBBP), the first professional league in the United States. Mexicans also began playing baseball at around the same time, and by the late 1870s they were challenging teams of North American sailors and railroad construction workers in places like Guaymas, Nuevo Laredo, and Tamaulipas. Halfway across the Pacific, the indigenous youths of the Hawaiian kingdom were facing off against children of white American settlers on the baseball diamond in the 1860s. That was decades before Albert G. Spalding, the paramount booster of American professional baseball, passed through the island during his ballyhooed tour to propagate “America’s Game” worldwide. Farther afield, and more than a decade before Spalding’s globe-girdling sporting expedition left the shores of California, a group of schoolboys were being won over to baseball on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, in the “Mikado’s Empire.” Given this surprising degree of contemporaneity and the amazing geographical span of the game’s diffusion in its early history, is it not valid also to suggest . . .

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