My father was a Cubs fan. We’ve always had a place in our home for those lovable losers, checking the scores occasionally, anticipating the worst and never disappointed because they met expectations: they usually lost. A lot. For decades.
My father wasn’t a fanatic supporter but followed them because of a twist in history. Our family members were farm workers in the first half of the 1900s in rural Fresno. My grandparents had immigrated from Japan; they were poor, hungry for work and dreamed for a better life. They filled a need for cheap labor in California agriculture as it exploded in growth.
Later, my grandparents rented some raisin vineyards and also worked for other farmers. They lived the classic story of an immigrant family hoping to plant roots in America.
Baseball was a distant game; there was no major league team in California until the late 1950s. Some Japanese American leagues had formed, but our family needed to work before play.
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The bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 changed everything. Overnight, Japanese Americans were labeled as the enemy, and in 1942, over 100,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were rounded up and sent to internment camps scattered across desolate areas of the United States. My family was relocated to the Arizona desert at Gila River for years, far from their San Joaquin Valley home.
While they were in this prison camp, baseball became popular. It was considered an all-American sport, and Japanese Americans tried to find some comfort behind the barbed wire. My father was not a great athlete, better with a shovel and pruning shears.
In the summer of 1944, a program allowed early release of some internees from their relocation camps, if they settled in “unrestricted locations” east of the Mississippi, away from the West Coast and the unsubstantiated fears of collusion with the Japanese military.
So my father departed for Chicago. For a few months, the 22-year-old found work while living with other Japanese American buddies in the same situation. For fun, they attended Chicago Cubs games. That year, as expected, the Cubs were under .500 (although the next year, 1945, they did win the National League pennant but, of course, lost in the World Series).
Almost implausibly, my father cut his time in Chicago short and was forced to quickly return to Arizona, where he had to report to the U.S. Army because he had been drafted.
Yet for a summer, he had enjoyed a new-found freedom. He had avoided imprisonment for a season, could drink a beer and watch a baseball game. He could be American.
After the war, our family resettled in the Fresno area to farm. As soon as he was discharged from the military, my father returned to the family, trying to support us as he worked the fields. He rarely talked of the internment experience, but his silence spoke volumes. It took me years to hear a few stories of the Cubs, and only now do I understand more.
Perhaps because the Cubs lost so much, perhaps because losing was so predictable, my father had an affinity with this sports team. Face challenges with the mantra, “Wait until next year.” Life is hard, you wait for something bad to happen, then you labor on. Expect to be let down, but continue to love despite it all.
We never attended a Cubs game; we occasionally listened to a game on the radio when they played the Giants or Dodgers. Dad knew his Cubbies would be beaten down. He recognized what it was like to be a misfit, a loser as defined by other’s standards. We listened to the games on a pocket transistor radio while working in the fields.
I imagine he occasionally slipped into a memory of Wrigley Field, the fresh green grass in the bright sunlight of day games (they didn’t install lights for night games until 1988). A moment of liberation.
So when the Cubs actually won the World Series this year, I thought of my father, who passed away in 2010. Fittingly, this wasn’t just about winning. I heard stories about Cub fans visiting cemeteries this past week, crying not about the victory but wanting to share the moment with family and loved ones who had passed.
Or the story of a son journeying to his father’s graveside and listening to Game 7 on the radio, experiencing the ups and downs of the wild final game with a companion and friend. The World Series of 2016 was about recognition and relief. And resilience.
I, too, had a bonding moment between a father and son, a parent and child, not because of the victory celebration but rather our shared sense of history.
My father understood there are more losers than winners in baseball and in life. The Cubs taught him that. And now I comprehend the twisted circumstances that made him a Cubs fan.
David “Mas” Masumoto is an organic farmer near Fresno and the award-winning author of eight books, including “Epitaph for a Peach.” and “A Sense of Yosemite.”