The Los Angeles Times, August 7, 2002
"Play Ball!" — Words to Remember Manzanar
Diamond should be restored at internment camp.
By Steve Kluger
Baking in the California desert 220 miles northeast of Los Angeles and at the foot of
Mt. Whitney sits what used to be a ballpark—one that wouldn't even qualify for the
minor leagues today but whose very presence is just as elemental to U.S. history as
The dirt diamond—its baselines still visible beneath 57 years' worth of sagebrush—
rests squarely along Highway 395 on the eastern border of what was once
euphemistically called the Manzanar War Relocation Center.
By now, the history of Manzanar is well out of the shadows. In early 1942, Gen. John
L. DeWitt and California Atty. Gen. Earl Warren—casting about for a reason to get
rid of all Japanese Americans living on the West Coast—invented a kind of Silly Putty
logic that promptly put the Bill of Rights on the endangered list.
"The fact that there have been no instances of espionage to date indicates how
devious these people really are," warned DeWitt, "and points to an almost certain
plot in the future."
The upshot was President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066, which
resulted in the roundup of 120,313 aliens and "nonaliens" (i.e., citizens) and their
deportation to federal concentration camps—generally with the loss of their homes
their property and anything else they couldn't carry with them.
President Clinton's $5-million appropriations bill allowed the Department of the
Interior to honor the Americans whose Constitution was taken away from them during
those three terrible years. But while the National Park Service is in the process of
restoring the Manzanar site—complete with a visitors center, a block of barracks and
regularly scheduled tours beginning in September 2003—the only plans for the
baseball field consist of a free-standing marker located roughly where home plate
used to be.
This, as they say in Cooperstown, is an error of major league proportions—because
a memorial to Manzanar without its baseball diamond is like the Pledge of Allegiance
without the flag.
The importance of baseball to those incarcerated behind Manzanar's barbed wire
can't be overstated: It was perhaps one of the few aspects of the lives they'd led prior
to E.O. 9066 that they were allowed to keep with them after everything else had been
taken away. In fact, although Manzanar wasn't fully populated until June 1942, the
camp's newspaper from early May shows that there were already eight baseball
teams in fierce competition. The diamond was one of the first things to go up, even
before the school had been constructed.
Baseball was the bond that kept many of these families together during some pretty
tough moments. It got them through the disappointing Supreme Court decisions
upholding the constitutionality of the internment, and—as Americans—it got them
through the rage and humiliation engendered by the loyalty questionnaire.
But would anybody break away from an otherwise somber pilgrimage to an
internment camp for a photo op along a dusty first base line? Or a pickup game? Or
even a catch between father and son? One need look no further for an answer than
Dyersville, Iowa—where people from all over the country still make Field of Dreams
an out-of-the-way pit stop on their itineraries just to be able to play ball on the fabled
diamond-in-a-cornfield. To have the same sort of magic strike at Manzanar—this time
between the generations and, even more significantly, between the cultures—would
go a long way toward underscoring the message the park is meant to convey.Indeed,
the inclusion of a diamond might achieve what reparations alone couldn't facilitate:
healing. Something like closure is best accomplished when a 12-year-old Caucasian
kid tosses a ball to a 10-year-old Latino kid, who then throws it to an 11-year-old
Asian. Especially when they don't even know one other.
You couldn't ask for a more human legacy than that.