All my life I grew up thinking my dad loved the Yankees. He’d met the team in Japan.
I love Japan. I loved living in Japan. I loved learning Japanese. I loved meeting Japanese people. I loved all of that. It’s been 20 years now this spring since I got on the plane to fly there for the first time.
Honestly, I was scared out of my skin. I kind of hoped they’d let me stay on the plane, not disembark, and just fly back. I still remember how fast the blood coursed through my veins when we touched down at Narita Airport, how I felt like I was having a out-of-body experience, how I wished I could be anyone else right then.
But I wasn’t the first person in my family to go to Japan.
In the 1950s, my grandparents packed up their six kids (later ten kids, but six at the time) and went to live on the north part of the island of Honshu on a U.S. Air Force base. My grandfather was an Air Force pilot, well, a pilot trainer, to be exact. He worked with Japanese officers to teach them to fly American planes, if I have my details correct. He met the likes of General Genda, one of the architects of the attack on Pearl Harbor. My grandmother raised the kids on the base and often used her stock phrase, “Ikura desu ka?” — How much is it?
She taught me that before I left.
Well, my dad was the oldest of their kids, and he was a 12 year old the year the Yankees won the World Series title. They came on an exhibition tour to Japan, and my dad, as an officer’s son, was selected to be their bat boy. What an honor!
As such, he was given a ball with all their names signed on it, and he kept it in a drawer of keepsakes where I found it when I was about 12, or maybe a bit older, and asked him the story. Even I recognized some of the names on the ball–Whitey Ford, Don Larsen, Yogi Berra–and I was a baseball idiot.
Fast forward to the year 2001. Just weeks after the September 11th attack on New York City, the Yankees again made it to the World Series. They were playing against the Arizona Diamondbacks, and my husband and I had moved to Arizona a few months before. Baseball fever was running high–and American nationalism was at its height, possibly the highest it’d been in my entire memory. There’d been some talk of canceling, due to the heightened security after the 9-11 attacks, but America spoke: baseball must go on.
We here in Arizona were rooting for the Diamondbacks.
The series went to seven games. New York, the city that had borne the brunt of the attacks, was at the edge of its seat to prove that the city would not be cowed by either terrorists or rattlesnakes from the desert. It seemed like the D’Backs were on the ropes. Those Yanks would beat them after all.
And then the Diamondbacks came alive in the seventh inning, scoring three runs and putting the Yankees to shame.
I was a little nervous to call my dad, but I figured, it’d been a rough autumn and he’d need some consoling, so I went ahead and dialed him. It rang.
“Isn’t it great!” his voice sounded so alive, so joyous.
“Wait. Dad. You weren’t watching the World Series were you?”
“Yes! And isn’t it great? I’m so happy!”
“Did you watch the same game I did? I mean, the Diamondbacks just won it.”
“But, Dad. I thought you were a Yankees fan. You were their bat boy. You have the ball signed by all the players. Whitey Ford, Dad. Yogi Berra!”
“Oh, no. I have hated the Yankees all my life. I root for anyone but the Yankees. It was swallowing my bile to have to be their bat boy.” And he went on in an ecstatic gush for a while.
I personally don’t have a strong opinion about the Yankees. I hope no one that reads this is offended. They seem like a great team to me. Truthfully, I have been emotionally involved in baseball for about a sum total of six weeks of my life (when I dated a baseball player in high school, and during that 2001 series.)
Still, it’s funny to learn things about my parents, to learn how wildly wrong my assumptions had been. It makes me wonder what kind of wildly wrong assumptions my kids will make about me. Like perhaps that I like root beer, or that I’m a good listener, or something completely wrong like that. But I am keeping a journal as often as I can, and someday when they read it, I hope they get a fairly accurate picture of the woman I am, of what I care about, of what my hopes and dreams are for them.
And that I loved them more than anything else. Even Japan.