Bleachers, backstop and a diamond are part of plans to bring baseball back to its historic home at Manzanar.

By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo

An unpretentious wooden sign marks the spot where a makeshift baseball field once served as a welcome distraction for Japanese American incarcerees living in Manzanar, one of America’s World War II concentration camps.   

Friends of Manzanar, an organization dedicated to supporting Manzanar National Historic Site’s preservation efforts, recently donated $15,150 to re-establish the sports field that was originally created by those imprisoned inside the camp. FOM’s contribution brings the campaign closer to its $30,619 goal.

“The story of baseball at Manzanar is one of the most deeply touching,” said Bruce Saito, FOM chairman. “Over 120 baseball and softball teams, divided into 12 leagues, played year ’round inside the camp.

“Making the site actually look like a baseball field will provide a new focal point for all visitors to Manzanar, one that will speak loudly of the community’s resilience and the injustice of incarcerating Americans during the war.”

Baseball was a welcome distraction for Manzanar incarcerees. (Clem Albers/Library of Congress)

The project was proposed by the National Park Service and is being enabled by The Fund for People in Parks, a nonprofit organization that provides private funding and professional services to enhance the visitor experience in western national parks.

The plan is for ceremonial games to be played on occasion, allowing for reconciliation and remembrance, according to Kevin Hendricks, executive director of The Fund.

Rebuilding the baseball field involves constructing an announcer’s booth, bleachers, players’ benches, backstop, foul-ball poles, and more. The wood for some features will come from dead and downed trees at Manzanar. The diamond will be marked off, but no grass will be planted, retaining the historical integrity of the dirt field.

In addition, the area will be archaeologically excavated, and findings will be documented.

Densho, the Seattle-based nonprofit that documents and shares details of the Japanese American experience, notes that sports programs have been an integral part of the community from the time the Nikkei first settled on the West Coast.

For example, in 1903, Chiura Obata created the first organized Issei baseball team. In postwar Southern California, Rafu Shimpo publisher Akira Komai organized the Nisei Athletic Union. Since then, sports including baseball, volleyball, and basketball have played an important role in connecting Japanese American families and local communities.

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