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Love of Baseball “Vancouver Asahi Style”

Japan  National

I was in Ashikaga City in Tochigi prefecture Japan to meet up with my wife’s kin, when I ran into the movie backdrops of the Japanese baseball movie “Bancouver” (so named “Vancouver Asahi” in the western movie issued title). I had seen the movie’s trailers when I saw the last Hobbit Trilogy and knew the basic story. Still being an “all things baseball” kind of guy I wanted to learn the full story, as it is not only Hollywood that distorts history for the sake of making things more entertaining, on a good day, and for someone’s agenda, on a bad day.

As I looked into the history of the real story I came to see the real meaning of baseball in its entire splendor, and so here I hope to go about giving it more attention so we can all learn what the spirit of the game really means.

The true story takes us to the period of the pre-WWII times of Vancouver, British Columbia Canada. The game has gone on in Canada as long as it has in the US because for those unaware of baseball history the game came from England under the name of “Rounders.” This name being our namesake for our team here in Japan too. This historical fact has also not escaped the Japanese as Rounders can be found on quite a few teams here, and has at least one manga comic book by that title in existence. While for the record too, basketball was created by a Canadian as well, but I digress.

The story centers on the local Japanese community in Vancouver, and their team the “Asahi”, and their hardships and successes in the face of many kinds of adversity. Their style of play is of interest to any aficionados of the game who are interested in seeing where “little ball” may have gotten its real roots, say from the little guys?

I don’t want to take away from the Japanese movie, or the Canadian documentary put out by the CBC, which I will link below. The CBC documentary has taken on some of the brilliant style first done in the US Civil War series created by Ken Burns and presented by PBS. By far the best version I have ever seen of any historical work in film history, and I can never stop re-watching that gem of a series. There was also a historical baseball series from PBS done by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick in the same style, and so anyone not up for war can still get the great styled presentation second to none.

Yet in these efforts by the CBC, and a for mentioned movie, I feel the emotions and thought are more to the core of the game, like they are reached in the Ken Burns Civil War effort best on that historical event.

The racism directed at this Japanese team is first defeated in this story and then the ill feeling and hatred of the war are then defeated in part too, which is no small deed at the time of hot state propaganda, when it is still not regarded as such at the time, but later seen for the evil it is. Whether it is the Vancouver whites cheering for the underdog Canadian-Japanese team over the white teams, and or there endless victories, or later when it is the Royal Canadian Mountie guards in the internment camps breaking the rules and orders to play with their prisoners, the story is bound to bring a wet cheek or two to anyone who really thinks most of the average people from any nation really want war with the people from other nations, or for that matter racism really is the way the world is.

Not touched on by this great human story, but known by many Canadian vets of the war, was the darker side at play in this world at the time. One Japanese youth in Kamloops B.C. who was said to have been picked on, and or beaten up by whites prior to WWII on some occasions, later returned to Japan and joined the Japanese Imperial Army to take part in the war. When the Japanese took over the British Territory of Hong Kong this “Kamloops Kid” proceeded to terrorize, torture and kill Canadian soldiers to great renown as they suffered for the war in Japanese concentration camps. I draw this seen of two worlds to show we must all make choices on how we will conduct our lives in the face of the terrible times we may find ourselves in during our lives.

In my own family I had an uncle nicknamed “Hawkeye” who was a real hell raiser and was known to all for a very un-Japanese set of traits. One of which was calling a spade a spade in all situations, and would take on pretty much anyone at any time verbally or physically if freedom of speech were not respected. Hardly the kind of person you would want at your networking party or tea party. Yet he was no bully either, and on a one occasion found a bunch of boys in the 1950s beating up a Japanese youth and proceeded to beat up all the bullies for being so dishonorable as to fight so many on one. Lifelong friends after that my very un-Japanese uncle showed that goodness can be found in all cultures and all kinds of individuals, even ones unable to understand the basic rules of being polite.

This all hits home for me in my efforts here in Japan as I have had more than my share of the wrong headed people who have stood in my way to having the first western led little league team here in Japan, which comes much later in time than the Japanese youth might have had to wait back home in my Canuckland. Not to go into details here as to my son’s misadventures too, I will rest on the readers’ imagination.

I’m not complaining much today in this article, as the Canadian Vets had it worst, the families’ interred had it bad and I have had an easy time of it in comparison. What goes for strength and courage in the face of adversity is universal and found in all cultures and we must choose every day how we wish to leave this world with our boots on and our characters intact, or instead to make emotional excuses to blame another for the evils we do to the innocent in the name of justice that that never passes the smell test. It’s beginning to reek in some quarters in our own time.

The “Vancouver Asahi Movie” and “the Sleeping Tigers” documentary give us what baseball is meant to represent in our world, and that “is” character on display, so that youth can learn to be the better person we all hope to be, and not the animal with the will to power and logical fallacies to back up these beastly urges.

The Sleeping Tigers: https://www.nfb.ca/film/sleeping_tigers_the_asahi_baseball_story

Vancouver Asahi: http://www.insidevancouver.ca/2014/10/04/big-budget-movie-looks-at-vancouvers-legendary-japanese-baseball-team/

Civil War: http://www.pbs.org/civilwar/

Baseball (The 10th Inning): http://www.pbs.org/baseball-the-tenth-inning/

Switch Pitcher History

Larry Corcoran (1859-1891)

“In 1882, Corcoran became the first pitcher to throw two no-hitters in a career. Two seasons later, he became the first pitcher to throw three no-hitters, setting a record that would stand until 1965, when Sandy Koufax threw his fourth no-hitter. He is also famous for being one of baseball’s very few switch-pitchers. A natural righty, Corcoran pitched four innings alternating throwing arms on June 16, 1884, due to the inflammation of his right index finger. He is credited with creating the first method of signaling pitches to his catcher, which consisted of moving a wad of chewing tobacco in his mouth to indicate what pitch would be thrown.”

For more information link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Corcoran

Tony Mullane (1859-1944)

“Anthony John “Tony” Mullane, nickamed “Count”, was an Irish Major League Baseball player who pitched for seven teams during his 13-season career. He is best known as a pitcher that could throw left-handed and right-handed, and for having one of the highest career win totals of pitchers not in the Baseball Hall of Fame. “

For more information link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Mullane

Elton Chamberlain (1876-1929)

“An ambidextrous pitcher, Chamberlain alternated arms for four innings of a game on June 16, 1884 while he was in the minor leagues. On May 9, 1888, he had a large lead against the Kansas City Cowboys and pitched the last two innings left-handed, giving up no runs that way.

In several seasons, Chamberlain finished in his league’s top ten in a number of pitching categories, including wins, ERA, strikeouts, and shutouts. His two best seasons were 1888 (25-11, 2.19) and 1889 (34-15, 2.97). His 1888 St. Louis Browns team won the American Association pennant with a 92-43 record. Chamberlain went 2-3 in that year’s “World Series” against the New York Giants.”

For more information link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elton_Chamberlain

George Wheeler (1846-1946)

“George Louis Wheeler was a professional baseball pitcher. He played all or part of four seasons in Major League Baseball from 1896-1899 for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Wheeler, primarily a right-handed pitcher, threw left-handed on a handful of occasions[ to become one of the few known “switch pitchers” in MLB history.”

For more information link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Wheeler_%28pitcher%29

Billy Wagner (1971-

“William Edward Wagner, nicknamed “Billy the Kid”, is a retired Major League Baseball relief pitcher. He pitched for the Houston Astros (1995–2003), the Philadelphia Phillies (2004–2005), the New York Mets (2006–2009), the Boston Red Sox (2009), and the Atlanta Braves (2010). Wagner is one of the few Major League relief pitchers to accumulate a total of 400 or more saves in his baseball career.

Wagner was a natural-born right-handed person, but after breaking his right arm twice in accidents as a young boy, he taught himself to throw baseballs using his left arm by throwing thousands of balls against the wall of a barn, and then fielding the rebounds, and repeating.”

For more information link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Wagner

Greg Harris (1955-

“Harris pitched in 703 games in his career, starting 98. He pitched for the Padres in the 1984 World Series, which they lost to the Detroit Tigers in five games.

Harris is best known as the only pitcher in the modern era to pitch with either arm. A natural right-hander, by 1986 he could throw well enough left-handed that he felt he could pitch with either hand in a game, but the opportunity did not arise. Harris wasn’t allowed to throw lefty in a regular-season game until September 28, 1995, the next-to-last game of his career, for the Expos. In the ninth inning, Harris retired Reggie Sanders pitching right-handed, then switched to his left hand for the next two hitters, Hal Morris and Ed Taubensee, who both batted lefty. Harris walked Morris but got Taubensee to ground out. He then went back to his right hand to retire Bret Boone to end the inning.”

For more information link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greg_Harris_%28pitcher,_born_1955%29

Pat Venditte (1985-

“Patrick Michael Venditte Jr. is an American baseball player. He is a minor league baseball player currently in the New York Yankees organization. He currently pitches for the Class-AA Trenton Thunder in the Eastern League. Venditte is a “switch pitcher”, meaning he can throw and pitch proficiently with either arm. He is recognized as the only active professional pitcher who is able to do this.”

For more information link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pat_Venditte