Archive for February 17th, 2012

Oh, it’s that time of the year once more.  Pitchers and catchers reporting to warm southern sites.  The first tentative soft toss of the ball and the swing of the bat.  Spring training is starting and for diehard baseball fans  it is the true beginning of the year, a time when the disappointments of last year are wiped from the slate and all that remains is the giddy hope that your team will experience that special year this year, topping it all off with a World Series crown.  It is, for me,  the best and most hopeful time of the year.

The photo I’m showing here may seem at first glance to have little to do with baseball but it is from a very important goodwill  tour of Japan that American players took in 1934.  Lasting a full month, it featured some of the best players of the day but by far, the biggest draw was the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth.  The crowds were massive wherever he appeared, with his every movement drawing oohs and aahs from the adoring Japanese fans.  This photo is from a parade from the Ginza in Tokyo which drew over 500,000 fans.  Most baseball historians mark this tour as the beginning of the baseball mania which still remains in Japan today.

I think it’s events like this that make me such a baseball junkie.  I mean, there’s  so much than just the game, which itself  has a Zen-like perfection in its geometry and a unique skillset  that allows players of any size to excell.  I mean, in what other sport can a 150 pound man utterly dominate a player that is a foot taller and  a hundred pounds heavier?  But it’s the  interweaving of the game with our history and our day-to-day lives through the past 150 years or so that also makes it different than other sports.  It has an ingrained tradition that  lives with us, existing in the same rhythm of our lives.  It is mythic with players like the Bambino who were larger than life and whose appeal made entire nations want to emulate him.  It inspires poetry and music.  It is, like those first days of spring training, all about hope and possibility.

It makes me want to smell the fresh cut grass of a ballpark.

Babe Ruth at the Meiji Shrine 1934

For more info on the 1934 tour of Japan, there is a book titled Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan from author Robert K. Fitts.  It documents all the aspects of this famed tour including what might be the first mission in espionage from Moe Berg, the Princeton educaated Detroit Tiger catcher who was an OSS (forerunner of the CIA) operative during WW II.  See? History!  There are excerpts from this book here.

Batter up!


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