By SOJI KASHIWAGI
With the Giants and Dodgers currently going at it in the post-season for the first time, some have wondered, “How do you and Keiko co-exist in the same house with one of you being a die-hard Giants fan and the other being a die-hard Dodger fan?”
Somehow we’ve made it work. When I first met Keiko, I was just happy that she liked baseball and enjoyed going to baseball games. The fact that she was a Dodger fan, well….that was a bit tricky at first.
She was born and raised in Pasadena. I grew up in San Francisco. So it’s natural that we would root for our hometown teams. But all the kidding and typical Dodger trash-talking ended when she told me this: “I’m a Dodger fan because my Jiichan (grandfather) used to take me to Dodger games when I was little.”
Just like my dad taking us to Giants games at Candlestick Park when we were kids, Keiko had her own tradition and treasured memories of Jiichan and Dodger Stadium as well.
In the late ’60s, Jiichan Kawashima wore a suit to Dodger Stadium, and kept a small transistor radio in his shirt pocket so he could listen to Vin Scully broadcasting the game. “He would hold my hand, and I remember it felt like a big event,” said Keiko, who was around six years old at the time. “There was a lot of excitement in the air.”
She also remembers Jiichan buying her bags of peanuts and a souvenir Dodger pen shaped like a baseball bat.
Around the same time up the coast in S.F., my dad was taking his three young sons to “Bat Day” at Candlestick Park. I remember that we sat out in the left-field bleachers, which turned into a real headache when kids would loudly pound their souvenir Louisville Slugger bats on the metal benches. My dad also complained that he was the one who had to lug the three bats around inside the park and after the game. We never went to another “Bat Day” after that. But I still remember it to this day.
With memories like these, I immediately knew this was deeper than a Giant/Dodger rivalry. We were rivals, yes, but shared and still share a deep connection with our families and a long-standing love affair that Japanese Americans and Japanese people have had with baseball.
I mean, ever since baseball was first introduced to Japan in 1872, the Japanese people have been “baseball crazy” and still are. I always thought I inherited my love of the game and the Giants from my dad, but it wasn’t until many years later that I learned that my dad inherited his love of baseball from his dad. It turns out Jiichan Kashiwagi, an Issei from Wakayama, was a huge baseball fan, and used to take off work from his country store in Loomis to go watch my uncle Ryo and other Nisei play ball on Sunday afternoons on a field that he and other Issei built.
If you go back even further, Wakayama was an early hotbed of Japanese baseball and baseball players, so it’s very possible Jiichan caught the baseball bug as a youth growing up in Wakayama and brought it with him when he immigrated to America. That means a uniquely American sport, taught and learned in Japan, returned to America and spread from immigrant fathers to sons, grandfathers to granddaughters, generation to generation.
So given this 100+-year history and tradition, plus the deep history, tradition and intense rivalry between the Giants and Dodgers, it’s safe to say there will be a lot going on at our house when the two teams square off against each over the next several days.
Of course, I’ll be rooting for the Giants. Keiko will be rooting for the Dodgers. But one thing that won’t change is the deep respect we have for where each of us is coming from, and the family history, tradition and the cherished memories that goes with it.
So let’s “Play Ball!” And may the best team win.
Kashiwagi is executive producer of the Grateful Crane Ensemble.