From: Oregon, USA
May 30, 1968: Anaheim, California
The parking lot of Anaheim Stadium shimmers in the Southern California sunshine. Heat rises from the asphalt and sunlight glints off the windshields of cars as they pull into the wide parking lot that surrounds the stadium. The light gives everything a faded, washed-out appearance. To the north the nearby mountains are mostly obscured by an ochre haze.
Jerry Ogata approaches the stadium from the left-field side, near where the giant “A” with its scoreboard towers immediately behind the left field wall. He rounds a decorative island of palm trees and turns towards the ticket booths. As he does so he slows. A woman in a blue dress is standing nearby, alone, looking around with great interest at the people passing by.
There are many attractive women in the crowd but something about this one catches Jerry’s attention. She is of Japanese descent, like himself, and very attractive. More than this, she has a lively, intelligent face. Jerry has dated too many women lately who were either vapid and shallow or who thought that being vapid and shallow was what men wanted and have gotten the act down to the point where they can hardly change it. This woman is something else again, he can tell.
As he draws closer Jerry picks up more clues. No wedding ring, good. The way her glossy dark hair falls, the subtle makeup, and the conservative way she is dressed suggests that she might actually be Japanese, not Japanese-American. That’s all right.
He smiles as he passes and she smiles back. It’s a small smile but this is all the encouragement he needs.
“Pardon me,” he says. “But are you looking for something? I come here a lot and would be glad to show you around.” There. Helpful, friendly, not obviously a come-on; she can pick up on it or shoot him down politely with no loss of face on either side.
“Thank you,” she says. “I am not lost. I am just waiting for my grandfather.” She indicates the nearby restrooms. Her English is very good but with a strong accent. Definitely from the old country, then. And she is here with her grandfather, not a boyfriend. Good, if not ideal.
“Oh,” he says. That’s good, Jerry, he thinks sarcastically, very smooth. “That’s cool. Um, you’re from Japan, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” she says. “This is my first visit to America.” An opening!
“How do you like it here?” he asks.
“Well,” she says, “it is very different. I do not mean just the people, and the food, and so on. Look at this.” She waves her hand out over the parking lot, acres and acres of it surrounding the stadium on every side. “So much space! You would never see something like this in Japan.”
“I have never been there,” Jerry admits. “My parents are from Tokyo originally but I was born here. I have always wanted to see it, though.” In fact Jerry was born in the Gila River interment camp, though he does not remember the place. “My name is Jerry, by the way. Jerry Ogata.”
“It is nice to meet you, Mr. Ogata,” she says. “My name is Sachiko.” She smiles and Jerry’s heart involuntarily shifts into a higher gear. She has a great smile.
Jerry is so intent on her that he does not notice the elderly gentleman approach. Sachiko does, though, and turns to him.
“Hello, Grandfather,” she says. Jerry turns to face the man. He is somewhat shorter than Jerry and, though he is really, really old – at least in his 60’s – is still an arresting figure. The whiteness of his hair and bushy eyebrows contrasts sharply with his deeply tanned, weathered face. The glitter in his eyes reminds Jerry of a bird of prey and he stands ramrod-straight with his still-broad shoulders square.
“Grandfather, this is Mr. Ogata,” she says, shifting to Japanese. Jerry can follow it; it is the language his parents still use around the home. “He has very nicely offered to show us around.” The old man’s bright eyes turn full on Jerry and he feels the full force of the personality behind them. This is not a guy you want to mess with, he thinks.
“I am very pleased to meet you, Mister…?” Jerry says in Japanese, extending his hand. The old man looks at it as if deciding whether to shake it or tear it off his wrist.
“Ishii,” grunts the man after a moment, taking his hand briefly. “Ishii Hagumu. Thank you for your offer, Mr. Ogata, you are…most kind…but my granddaughter and I are fine.” Damn! thinks Jerry. There is no way he is going to get around this formidable old buzzard.
“Grandfather,” says Sachiko, laying a hand on his arm. “Are you sure? It might be convenient to have someone help show us around.” The old guy looks at her and his expression softens. He turns back to Jerry.
“What do you do, Mr. Ogata?” he asks.
“I…I, um, I study physics at Cal Tech,” Jerry says. “I’m a graduate student there.” Sachiko brightens.
“Truly?” she says. “I study physics too! At Osaka University!” This is too good to be true, thinks Jerry. He is hauled back to reality by the old man.
“And you are a baseball fan, Mr. Ogawa?” he asks.
“Yes, I love the game,” he replies. “I usually follow the Dodgers but since the Tigers are in town I have come here. I like them and I think they have a very good team this year.” Jerry doesn’t know what he just said but the old man’s expression becomes immediately less severe.
“Indeed?” he asks.
“We are here to see the Tigers,” Sachiko says. “My father has always wanted to see them play. He has been a fan all his life, especially of the great Hank Greenburg.” This casual bit of news strikes Jerry like a thunderbolt. With the Tigers in town there is a chance, a very good chance…
“Sir,” he tells Ichii, “if you will put yourselves in my hands I promise you will not regret it.” Ichii looks steadily at him and his gaze seems to dissect Jerry. Then he shrugs.
“Very well, young man,” he says. “Lead on.”
Jerry leads them around the stadium to the first-base side. As they thread their way through the crowd Sachiko tells him that her grandfather is a sea captain who retired a couple of years ago and has brought his wife to America on a long-awaited vacation. Sachiko and her sister have come with them. The other sister and her grandmother are spending the day shopping.
“He retired from the navy after the war and was home for about a year,” she explains. “But he grew restless and went back to sea. For twenty years he has sailed merchant ships around the Pacific. Now he is retired for good.”
It is still early and Jerry obtains good seats, behind the first base dugout though a ways back from the field. When the Ishii and Sachiko are settled Jerry excuses himself briefly and hurries down the steps towards the rail. He scans the seats as he goes. Please, please, please, he thinks..there! Jerry finds the man he is looking for and hurries to plop down in the empty seat next to him. The man turns an annoyed look in his direction but his expression changes as he hears what Jerry has to say.
It is a short while later when Jerry returns to where Ichii and Sachiko are sitting. He is followed by a tall, broad-shouldered man wearing a dress shirt and slacks. The man’s hair is graying and receding but his deep-set eyes and large, high-bridged nose are distinctive. Ishii looks up in shock, then stands as quickly as he ever must have stood to attention as a young officer so long ago.
“Mr. Ishii?” says the man, extending his hand. “My name is Hank Greenburg.” Sachiko translates, and the look she gives Jerry sends his spirits soaring. Ishii simply gapes, then bows deeply and reverently. Greenburg looks amused.
“He lives in Beverly Hills now,” Jerry whispers to Sachiko. “He comes to a lot of the games here and almost never misses the Tigers. Most people here don’t even know who he is.”
It is a good game. The Tigers of Detroit defeat the Angels of California 7 to 3; Joe Sparma wins his fourth game and Northrup and Freehan hit home runs for the Tigers. With Jerry and Sachiko translating the two older men talk about the game and about baseball for nine innings. The two men quickly establish a rapport despite the fact that they do not speak a common language and despite the fact that they once fought on opposite sides of savage war. It slowly occurs to Jerry, watching them, that despite having nothing in common except baseball the two older men seem to be of a common breed, fading but still formidable, men who once walked in the shadows and returned.
Note: Captain Ishii dies of stomach cancer in 1976, at age 76, at his home in Japan. Among the mourners at his funeral service are Jerry and Sachiko Ogata and their son, Ishii’s first great-grandchild.