Take Me Out to the Ball Game
I have lived most of my life blissfully aloof from the cult of baseball. Perhaps it was the line-drive I took to the solar plexus as a nine-year-old while pitching a game between neighbourhood kids in Etobikoke. Or perhaps it was the distain my father held towards all organized sports—although that didn’t keep me from cheering for first the Leafs and then, later, the Canucks.
Whatever the reason, I never paid much attention to the game until 1993, the year that the Toronto Blue Jays made a run for their second consecutive World Series. My in-laws were visiting at the time and my mother-in-law, who is indifferent to all team sports except baseball, was watching the games. Maybe it was the fact that it was a Canadian team (in fact the Canadian team) playing that piqued my interest, but I sat and watched a few games with Bonnie and Joel, both ex-pat Americans. It certainly helped that Bonnie was able to answer any questions I had about the seemingly arbitrary things that were occurring on the field (“why is he able to score after a fly ball is caught but the other guy wasn’t able to?” “How come the pitcher can’t come back once he’s left the field?”).
Over the course of the series I gained an appreciation for the subtleties of the game and the various strategies that come into play not only during the game itself, but off the field as well. Having watched hockey since I was a small boy, the much slower, more deliberate pace of baseball was a refreshing change. Even when my in-laws left to go back home I continued watching the series. When Joe Carter hit that towering home run to win the series, it was electrifying.
I can’t say that I’ve become a fervid baseball fan. In fact, I have yet to attend a real game (although I hope to catch a Vancouver Canadians game one of these days), but I sometimes sit down to watch a few innings when I need to relax if the Blue Jays or Mariners are playing.
The whole Japanese connection to baseball is fascinating and makes perfect sense, given that strategy and finesse play as great a role as brawn, making it unlike most team sports. I don’t have to remind anyone of the storied Asahi and their role in bringing pride and respect to Japanese Canadians at a time when it was in short supply. That the Asahi continue to be honoured today, including the yearly tribute game at the Powell Street Festival, is a testament to their place within the community.
In this month’s lead story, I talk to Teppei Fujino, a Japanese baseball fan working for the Vancouver Canadians. His mission? To get Japanese Canadians back into baseball. Perhaps not at the level of pre-World War Two Asahi (although wouldn’t that be something?!), but at least in greater numbers than now. With players like Ichiro and Daisuke making their mark on the major leagues, maybe it’s time to take someone you care about “out to the ball game.”
As I write this, I am preparing to leave for Japan for a two and a half week trip with Chibi Taiko. Unfortunately, I will miss the Powell Street Festival for the second year in a row. Have some yakitori for me, and I’ll see you in September!