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 Ebbets Field.

The dirt diamond—its baselines still visible beneath 77 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 in 2000 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 continually upgrading the Manzanar site, complete with a visitor’s center, a block of barracks and regularly scheduled tours—the only initial plans for the baseball field were 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.

But all that’s about to change.

After twenty years of painstakingly restoring the larger and more complicated structures reminding us of one of the darkest chapters in American history, the National Park Service has finally turned its attention to that long-neglected field that meant so much to so many—recognizing that 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 already reflects the exploits of the Aloha Ramblers, the Manzanar Giants, the San Pedro Gophers, the Manzanar Pioneers, The Hitless Wonders, the Mayor’s Team, the Manzanar Señors, the San Fernando Aces, and—of course—the inevitable Yankees. 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.

Sure, that was a long time ago. The rock gardens are gone now, and so are the Victory gardens and the barracks and the flagpole and the tears that evaporated generations ago, but not really. The barbed wire is gone too, along with the guard towers, those who manned them, and the rifles they carried—pointed inward. Of course, it’s too late for forgiveness and it’s too late for apologies, because those who would ask and those who would receive are no longer with us. But it’s not too late to start over. Underneath 77 years’ worth of dust and sagebrush, in the firebreak next to Block 25, sits a diamond waiting to be reclaimed. A diamond that once played host to the exploits of sluggers and hurlers with names like Tanaka and Takayama and Hashimoto and Okamoto and Masuda, whose time to be remembered has finally arrived.

But will anybody break away from an otherwise somber pilgrimage to an internment camp for a photo op along a faded 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.

—Steve Kluger