My father’s Cubbies

Special to The Bee

By a twist of history, my father was a Cubs fan. We’ve always had a place in our home for those loveable losers, checking the scores, anticipating the worst and never disappointed because they met expectations: they usually lost.

Our family worked on farms in the first half of the 1900s in rural Fresno. My grandparents had immigrated from Japan; they were poor, hungry for work and dreamed of a better life.

They filled a need for cheap labor as California agriculture grew. Later, my grandparents rented some raisin vineyards and 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 Dodgers moved west in 1957. Japanese Americans formed leagues, but our family needed to work before playing.

The bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 changed everything. Overnight, Japanese Americans were labeled as the enemy, and in 1942, more than 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 our San Joaquin Valley home.

While in this prison camp, Japanese Americans tried to find some comfort in the all-American sport. My father was not a great athlete, better with a shovel and pruning shears.

But in 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.

My father departed for Chicago. For a few months, the 22-year-old found work while living with Japanese American buddies in the same situation. For fun, they attended Chicago Cubs games.

That year, the Cubs were under .500, though the next year, 1945, they won the National League pennant, only to lose the World Series in seven games to the Tigers. Almost implausibly, my father cut his time in Chicago short and was forced to quickly return to Arizona to report for duty in the U.S. Army.

But for a summer, he enjoyed freedom, avoiding imprisonment, drinking beer at Wrigley Field, being an American.

As soon as he was discharged from the military, my father returned to the family in Fresno, trying to support our family 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 for the team. Wait till next year. Life is hard. You expect something bad to happen, but you labor on and love, despite it all.

We would occasionally listen to Cubs games on transistor radios in the farm fields when they played the Giants or Dodgers. Dad knew his Cubbies would lose. He recognized what it was like to be a misfit, a loser defined by others’ standards. I imagine he occasionally slipped into a memory of Wrigley Field, the fresh green grass in the bright sunlight of day. A moment of liberation.

My father passed away in 2010. But when the Cubs won the World Series this year, I thought of him. Fittingly, this wasn’t just about winning.

I heard stories about Cubs 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 seven 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 author of several books including”Epitaph for a Peach.”