The Father of Japanese Baseball

>> Saturday, June 9, 2007

My friend Judy Eastwood sent me a newspaper article from the Maine Sunday Telegram of May 20th, which tells the story of a Gorham, Maine man who went to Japan in the late 1800s to teach English, and ended up teaching them far more:

On a day in 1872 or a year later, depending on who's telling the story, Horace Wilson decided his students at the First Higher School of Tokyo needed to get away from their class lessons. A little physical exercise in the form of hitting a ball, throwing it and running would get the blood pumping.

The game was baseball, of course. If you've read the end notes to Samurai Shortstop, you'll know that Horace Wilson is credited with introducing baseball to Japan--although the sources I had said that Wilson wasn't a teacher at First Higher, but at Tokyo University. (Otherwise I might have used him as a character!)

What I find most interesting about the article is how Japanese baseball officials went looking for someone from Horace Wilson's family to represent him during Wilson's induction into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001:

A century passed before a representative of Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan's national newspapers, showed up at the Wilson farm, now owned by Abigail Sanborn and Balcomb. "We didn't have any idea what he wanted," said Balcomb, who teaches calculus and contemporary math, among other classes, at Saint Joseph's College of Maine.

The Japanese weren't satisfied with the notion that baseball just happened to take root in their country. They wanted the man responsible for planting the seed. Their evidence pointed to Horace Wilson. To honor him properly and promote baseball in Japan, his family had to be found.

In June 2001, a small delegation arrived at the farm to formally invite Wilson family members to Japan. The newspaper, along with Japanese baseball federations, planned a ceremony to recognize Uncle Horace before the 83rd National High School Baseball Championship Series at the famed Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya. Dice-K had pitched his Yokohama team to the championship at Koshien three years earlier.

"It was a terribly hot day," said Balcomb of the second visit. "We were haying. I was in the barn, up to my knees in manure, milking, and one of the Japanese came in to watch. He didn't speak English."

Click here to read the whole article.


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