Tribe fans are everywhere


Oct. 28, 1995

YOKOSUKA, Japan — Tucked away in a shallow valley north of this maritime city is the small village of Hemi. Though within the municipal boundaries of Yokosuka, Hemi, like Yoshikura, Tanoura and Taura further north, is surrounded on three sides by mountain ridges and has kept an old-fashioned atmosphere of mostly wooden homes, lots of trees and mom and pop stores.

Anyone who has ever read James Clavell’s “Shogun” has already been indirectly introduced to this small hamlet. The fictional heroics of John Blackthorn were loosely based on the exploits of an Englishman named William Adams, who sailed from Rotterdam in 1598 on a five-ship trading expedition. Nearly two years later, only ‘De Liefde’ (formerly ‘Erasmus’ because of it wooden figurehead) remained, and Adams and 23 others dropped anchor in southern Japan.

Part of Clavell’s story is true: the shogun took a liking to English pilot, there was friction with the Spanish and Portuguese, and there was at least one attempt on his life, but not by Ninjas sneaking into the castle. Beyond that, Clavell crafted brilliant fiction, using fictional names and a fictional romance to keep the plot line going.

Adams was, however, given samurai status — he wanted to marry a samurai’s daughter — and became a diplomatic and trade adviser to the shogunate. Along with this came a fief and salary equal to 250 bushels of rice per year. Some 90 farming families lived in Adams’ fief, and many of the modern day residents of Hemi are direct descendants, as are the priests of Buddhist that Adams made his own.

Now, baseball is an extremely popular sport here. The Japan Series ended the night of Oct. 26, when the Yakult Swallows took the Orix Blue Wave in five games. So it was a little surprising the following morning when I pedaled by the open door of a house near Jodoji Temple in Hemi and heard the familiar cheer of a baseball game.

The Indians were up 2-0 when I left home for a 30-minute ride before heading off to work. The game was being carried live on Japanese satellite. The earphones I put on to stay on top of things while I worked up a sweat had gone dead behind the mountain. The Braves had tied it and I was heading home.

I did a quick 1-80 on my bike and I rolled back in front of the wooden house and peered through the open door. The room I saw was very Japanese, tatami mats, and a small table, little else except the TV.

An elderly man sitting on a thin cushion behind the table turned, saw my Indians baseball cap and first smiled, then gave off a huge grin, a beaming ear-to-ear grin.

“Dochi ga kateru? (Who’s winning?)” I asked, point toward the TV with my chin.

“Kuriburando! (Cleveland!)” he said, still grinning. Jim Thome had just driven in the go-ahead run in the sixth and Manny Ramirez was stepping up to the plate. His hands, wrinkled with age, were pressed palm-down on the low table. He leaned forward on his knees, shifting to adjust his kimono. I was fascinated, torn between watching this man likely in his 80s and the excitement building via the satellite broadcast in Japanese suburbia.

Upon Ramirez’s base hit, he straightened and lightly rapped a fist on the table.

“Yosh! Yattazo,! Yon tai ni! (Alright! We got it! Four to two!)” he sounded out in a husky undertone. By this point I had fully expected to hear him shout “Go Tribe!”

I raised a fisted cheer to him, said it myself and waved so-long. He nodded with a knowing smirk and winked at me before turning back to the game. I pedaled away without asking his name and got back home in time for Thome’s blast in the eighth inning.

If I ever go back to visit him, I plan to take him an Indians cap. In the meantime, I’ll take comfort knowing there’s an extra dose of spirit pulling for the Tribe.