Baseball and the American Spirit – Two Children’s Books

 

Growing up I’ve always heard baseball described as “America’s pastime.” As a boy, I didn’t really understand it. In the seventies, baseball was one sport among several in the year, and so I just understood it to mean Americans love baseball. Later years proved that not to be the case, so I remained confused until I learned of its earlier days, when just about darn near everyone played baseball. There were the major league teams we know today, but there were semi-pro teams, local teams, local clubs, baseball games for all ages and all types and just about everyone took part. In the past year my two-year old girl who loves books found two stories of unique players I’d never heard of in the history of baseball.

The first book, Queen of the Diamond, tells the story of Lizzie Murphy, a ball player in the early twentieth century. Her father played on a team, and taught his kids to play. The story follows this plucky girl who loves baseball so much she pursues opportunities to play, even getting on a semi-pro team. Sheer determination and skill work in her favor and she plays before crowds. Interestingly, it’s her father and brother who encourage her in the early days. Her mother is constantly worried about how unladylike playing baseball is, but her father and brother both recognize Lizzie has talent.

Lizzie navigates the man’s game cleverly. She starts as the equipment manager for her brother’s local boys club. When no one save Lizzie remembers to bring a ball to the game, she takes her opportunity, offering to let them use hers if she gets to play. The manager reluctantly agrees, urged on by Lizzie’s brother. This starts her playing and she eventually signs on with a semi-pro team. The manager sees dollar signs: having a woman on the team will bring people in to the seats. Lizzie sees this as her big opportunity.

When the manager doesn’t pay her for her first game, again she bides her time. At the next game, she refuses to get on the bus to go until she gets paid. The manager is full of bluster, but eventually he’s caught by his own words and pressure from the team to pay her what she’s owed. Both these turning points are remarkable in that Lizzie doesn’t make demands she can’t back up. She’s a skilled player and proves herself on the baseball diamond again and again. The team, like her brother, recognizes that she is an asset to them and deserves what they have. She doesn’t set herself against them in the narrative, but rather demonstrates her value.

The other book, Barbed Wire Baseball takes place mid-twentieth century and follows Kenichi Zenimura. As a boy, Zenimura’s parents immigrated to the United States from Japan. At the age of eight he sees his first baseball game and knows this is what he wants to do with his life. Not only did he play, but he organized barnstorming tours in Japan and even helped negotiate Babe Ruth’s trip to Japan.

Of course, remember I said this was mid twentieth century. With other Japanese Americans, Zenimura and his family were sent to Internment camps, Zenimura at the Gila River War Relocation Center in Arizona. There, Zenimura begins to not only painstakingly build a baseball diamond and stands, but organizes teams and manages to get uniforms made and negotiates equipment. His hard work pays off and in the middle of the desert, in the middle of the war, Zenimura and his fellow Japanese Americans are playing baseball. It’s a remarkable story, and though it takes place in what today we call a black mark on our history, it’s a story of triumph. Zenimura overcomes the ill circumstances through strength of will.

It’s notable that in Gila River, the administrators show understanding and compassion. There is no way this project could go without notice, and yet Zenimura is never stopped or even reprimanded. Gila River was considered one of the least oppressive camps.

I enjoyed both of these stories, and found them both a great demonstration of the American spirit of the time. Unfairness abounded, but that did not stop either Murphy or Zenimura from overcoming those in one way or another. It’s something that at one time, we understood. Hardship – man made or otherwise – will come and go. The true test of a person is not what happens to him or her, but rather how he or she deals with the circumstances given. Sometimes that involves waiting for the right moment. Sometimes that involves making the right moment.

Cordelia enjoyed both of those books, and loves getting books about baseball. As these stories’ narratives portray them, I can’t imagine better books to not only instill a love of the game, but to introduce people in whom she could find traits to look up to.

There are 8 comments.

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  1. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Very nice, Douglas. A good post!

    • #1
  2. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    Great set of stories!  Thank you.

    • #2
  3. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    Great set of stories!  Thank you for posting this.

    Edit:  The duplicate comment checker wasn’t kidding!

    • #3
  4. valis Inactive
    valis
    @valis

    Me, I had Matt Christopher, Catcher with a Glass Arm, Boy with a Broken Bat, etc.  Junior high brought me to The Glory of Their Times.   Baseball was the great American past time.  Thanks to ESPN, the players union and Budweiser for making major league baseball unwatchable.

    And yes, I will be going to a minor league game tomorrow with a friend.  Baseball is great, MLB has become a force for the progs.

    • #4
  5. Quake Voter Inactive
    Quake Voter
    @QuakeVoter

    Thanks CU.  Here’s some extra innings for the kids:

    Freddy and the Baseball Team from Mars cover.jpg

    • #5
  6. C. U. Douglas Thatcher
    C. U. Douglas
    @CUDouglas

    Quake Voter (View Comment):
    Thanks CU. Here’s some extra innings for the kids:

    Freddy and the Baseball Team from Mars cover.jpg

    Actually, we’re going to the library again soon, and CC has specifically requested a baseball book. So suggestions are welcome!

    • #6
  7. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    I remember enjoying “In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson” about a little girl who emigrates to the U.S. from China with her family, and gets hooked on baseball.

    • #7
  8. Cow Girl Thatcher
    Cow Girl
    @CowGirl

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):
    I remember enjoying “In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson” about a little girl who emigrates to the U.S. from China with her family, and gets hooked on baseball.

    That is a fantastic book and I love reading it to my 4th grade students.

    • #8

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