The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Dreams Before Dusk

The white sun showered Sacramento with fraying rays ’til well past 4:00.  By then, the only folks left in the ballpark were those paid ten cents an hour to pick up hot dog wrappers and half-filled soda cups under the bleachers.  Even the drunks had staggered out of the cooler spots under the grandstand, destinations to-be-determined.  And the Japanese kid, now just a hushed memory of Depression-era reticence.

Nine vs. nine, plus a couple of local high school kids on the bench to provide the home-team with extra lumber, should the boys from Nippon come looking for a fight.  Word was they were plenty good, though being on foreign turf had to rattle them some.  Especially out here in the Central Valley, where hard times had folded and molded men into something only faintly resembling human beings, and the W.P.A. was the only game in town.  Moering Field was the only getaway for the Oakies,  baseballs courtesy of Our Lady of Humble Secondary Offerings.

That Japanese kid, though, was some fast out there.  First six guys might not have even seen that steam, just read about it a half-second later in the catcher’s mitt, smoke emanating from leather like redolent gunshot.  My, how the laws of physics were Putting on the Ritz!  A pair of self-conscious pop ups to the infield, a ground-out to short, harmless as a baby snake, and three K’s, each punctuated with a grunting final swing, finished off the first three innings.

But our own kid, the dark-haired Angelich, held his own, too.  Just nineteen-years old, still had a year on their guy, Sawamura.  Angelich tossed down and slow, heavy pitches with just enough movement to frustrate over-eager sluggers, like suckers at a five-cent peephole aback a county fair.  Damned familiar she looked, too, all churlish grins as we counted our sins.  That is to say, they couldn’t touch it.

Still, their boys scratched out a pair of runs in the sixth and seventh innings, though none of the balls left the park.  Angelich left in the eighth to a Standing-O, waving one quick gloved-hand up to the crowd as he slicked back his hair with his bare one.  A fine performance, but still no permanent spot on the team.  Tough year, ’35.  And much tougher to come.

Sawamura, though, had the look that day.  Could’ve knocked down Mount Shasta with that game-face.  Baby-faced or not, the kid had STUFF.  How we managed even the one lone run was a water-to-wine miracle.  And what was he getting paid for this performance?  Did he even own a wallet?  Did he have a girl waiting for him back home?  And what did he think about during that empty Sacramento night, hours after reluctant American crowd regaled him with polite applause?  Fate writ large is still invisible to the naked eye, even to small-town heroes.

An ocean away, (both oceans, as it turned out), steely men with glinting eyes that knew neither love nor laughter planned hurricane death because they could and would.  Big plans, small minds, and lots of flags.

Baseball only a kid’s game, of course.  Inconsequential, but to those along the third-base line, shouting as the runner rounds third, digging for home, dirt-churning cleats digging clods of sod in a straight line to home plate, base-path all possibility, a dream out-running time and space, as the soft summer light fades into gray, and the dream withers at dusk.

This one’s for Jerry Angelich and Eigi Sawamura.

Please read the excellent link below for further context.


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16 thoughts on “Dreams Before Dusk

  1. Mike Cornelius on said:

    Exquisite Bill; and what a back story! Thanks so much for sharing it.


  2. Thanks for doing this, Bill. I’d guess a few immigrants who’d come (or parents came) to CA from Japan watched that game-some of the Japanese-American farmers/agricultural workers in and around Sacramento.

    • Good point, Arne. I hadn’t thought of it from that angle, but it makes sense. I wonder how many of them later ended up in a camp somewhere for the duration of the war.
      Always nice to hear from you, Arne.

  3. Amuch as I wish you would offer some 2015 predictions Bill, this is such an interesting subject and you spin these historic pieces with noticeable flare. I think I said that right. I shamefully know nothing of this Sawamura, but now I do. I especially liked your sentence “molded men into something only faintly resembling human beings.” Tempts me to start smoking a pipe and contemplate for a few hours.

  4. Bill,

    I’m originally from Sacramento (born and raised…and it IS an unlivable hell-hole) so I know a bit about Solon history. Their stadium burned to the ground due to a cigarette mingling with peanut shells and is now a Target!

    Anyway….great stuff. More posts! 🙂

    • Wow, it’s now a Target? Well, I guess at least you can go buy a few packs of baseball cards there. I’ve never been to Sacramento, and, judging by what you and Smak have to say about it, I guess I’ll never bother to go see it. Sounds like the Bridgeport, CT (my hometown) of the west.
      Thanks, man

  5. To echo V, great stuff and even better than usual. This is world-class writing.

  6. Allan G. Smorra on said:

    A great story, Bill. I felt like I was in the bleachers.

  7. As I was reading this gripping story I was wondering if it had any basis in fact (other than that the Central Valley is an unlivable hell-hole), when I got to the link at the bottom, which I shall now read.

  8. Great stuff, as usual Bill. Welcome back.

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