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Cheryl Hughes: Baseball Saved Us

I have a book that one of my kids got at a book fair in elementary school called Baseball Saved Us, by Ken Mochizuki.  It is the story of Japanese families in an internment camp during WWII.  The camp was in the United States.  After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, the US government viewed Japanese Americans as a threat to our national security.  Tens of thousands were forced to live in internment camps for the duration of the war.

The main character in Mochizuki’s book is a young boy called Shorty.  Shorty and his father decide to build a baseball diamond and engage their fellow internees in the game of baseball in order to give them some reprieve and boost their spirits.  (I find it ironic that baseball is referred to as the great AMERICAN pastime.)

I understand how strong a diversion baseball can be.  I know the power the crack of a bat can wield over a person.  As a kid, my dad dreamed of playing second base for the Yankees.  As an adult, he watched every game that came on TV, and took our family to Reds games in Cincinnati.  He made sure there was baseball equipment aplenty for all of us kids. 

My younger sisters, Rhonda and Lorrie, and I spent many a late afternoon in the field in front of our house on Ashes Creek playing baseball.  The field wasn’t always mowed, so we spent a lot of time looking for foul balls, and God forbid, they rolled up under a stinging nettle.  (I attribute my ability to find almost anything that’s lost to the days of crawling around through the weeds looking for errant baseballs.)  Our bases were pieces of scrap wood from Dad’s sawmill.  Making sure you tagged the base without twisting an ankle was a bit tricky. 

There were three of us, so we really couldn’t have teams.  We rotated positions.  The batter was up against the pitcher and the fielder.  If you were the one at bat, you also served as your own catcher.  That served as extra incentive to hit the ball.  We didn’t always follow the standard rules.  We often made up our own to fit the situation.  If a call was contested, I was usually the arbitrator, and I usually called for a do-over.  It was easier than being accused of taking sides.

I think what drew us to baseball—besides nothing good on TV—was the competition; and because of the way we were forced to play the game (with no teams), it was as much a competition with ourselves as it was with each other. 

I used to play baseball with my daughters, Natalie and Nikki, in the area in front of our house.  There were three of us, so we followed the same play book that Rhonda, Lorrie and I had.  I wanted my girls to have the opportunity to learn from the game like I had.  Baseball isn’t just good exercise, it also teaches you how to strike out and try again, how to keep your eye on the ball, and most importantly, how to run home when someone’s chasing you. 

On Mother’s Day last spring, Garey asked me what I wanted to do. 

“I want to play baseball,” I told him.

“But we don’t have enough people for a team,” he said.

“Who needs a stinkin team?” I asked.

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