The story of Japanese American players, coaches, teams, and leagues has very nearly been a lost chapter in American and baseball history. Only today is it being rediscovered, to the benefit of America, baseball, and Japanese Americans alike.
A principal reason for this rediscovery is the traveling exhibition Diamonds in the Rough, which tells the story of Japanese Americans in baseball through words, images, and memorabilia. The exhibition, opened in Fresno, California, in 1996 and has since been viewed in cities and towns across the nation as well as at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown.
Also in the 1990s, a number of major-league teams, as well as the Hall of Fame, have given belated recognition to surviving Japanese American players of pre-World War II days. Now in their eighties and nineties, these venerable heroes once again stand in the limelight and hear the cheers of baseball fans.
Their story, and the story of their ancestors and descendants, is a tale of a great journey, full of hard-won victories, devastating setbacks, and new triumphs. The travelers on this journey are known by names designating the generations of Japanese immigrants and their descendants:
Issei - first-generation Japanese immigrants
Nisei - second-generation Japanese Americans
Sansei - third-generation Japanese Americans
Yonsei - fourth-generation Japanese Americans
Nikkei - Japanese Americans of all generations
So much of their story is wrapped up in baseball. If we were to dissect a Nikkei baseball, we would find that the center epitomizes the core members of the Issei and Nisei generations, the pioneers who created a culture.
The fiber and strings would represent the communities, weaving their identities, loyalties, and cultural affinities around their teams and players. The leather skin would symbolize the physical and mental toughness developed by the Issei and Nisei who endured the travails of settlement in a new land and the eviction and internment of World War II. The stitching bonds the Issei, Nisei, Sansei, and Yonsei together and seals these family spirits for future generations.
Today this symbolic baseball is being passed on to new generations. It carries with it history, wisdom, and pride of their ancestors. May they cherish this unique memento and embellish it with their own skills, discipline, courage, determination, and sportsmanship, on and off the baseball diamond. May they carry on the one-hundred-year legacy of Japanese Americans-working hard, keeping faith-and playing ball.
Through a Diamond: 100 Years of Japanese American Baseball
by Kerry Yo Nakagawa
Rudi Publishing, Inc.
$35.00 To Order Hardcover/Fully illustrated
"Kerry Yo Nakagawa has magically preserved the bittersweet memories of community, conflict, culture, baseball and America in Through a Diamond... an essential for any sports fan -- a bible for the baseball faithful." Ursula Liang, Writer/Reporter, ESPN the Magazine
"This book is a discovery and rediscovery of America - a fabulously improbable combination both of baseball back when it was truly the American Pastime, and of the Japanese-Americans who transcended prejudice by playing it." Henry Allen Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, 2000
"The history of Japanese American players in baseball is one of the last, great untold stories in our national pastime. Kerry Nakagawa captures thta story beautifully with words and images that shed light on a glorious story that should never be forgotten: Marcos Breton, Author of Away Games: The Life and Times of a Latin Ballplayer"
Through a Diamond is far more than a history of Japanese American baseball. It is a compassionate description of the immigrant experience of the Japanese people as seen through the prism of America's grand game of baseball." Noriyuki "Pat" Morita