Before their amazing careers in Major League Baseball, Dad and my Uncle Yosh had to live through the Great Depression. Their family was so poor that the electricity and water were shut off. The brothers often went days without food. There seemed to be no hope and no end in sight.
As a child, my father requested permission to go home from school for lunch because watching other kids eat was a worse agony than starving alone.
Despite the poverty, they lived their lives as gentlemen. They looked out for each other, showed kindness towards all, and honored their promises. Later, friends and co-workers would say that their word was their bond.
Like many other Japanese and Japanese Americans living in America during WWII, Dad and Uncle Yosh were also sent to internment camp. And like many others, the brothers also decided to serve this country in its hour of need.
Uncle Yosh served as a U.S. Army military policeman in New Guinea and the Philippines, while Dad served in the Merchant Marines running supplies between the U.S. and Great Britain. Although they did not serve on the frontlines, their jobs were neither easy nor safe. Dad had to journey through U-boat-infested waters, while Uncle Yosh had to do his job in enemy territory without any firearms.
When the war ended and they returned home, Dad and Uncle Yosh had to deal with the consequences of hate and prejudice that had only amplified by the war years. This did not deter them. In fact, they became standouts in the post-WWII world where Japanese Americans were not yet fully accepted.
Nobe and Yosh had long and illustrious careers in baseball. Dad worked for the Los Angeles Dodgers for 38 years as an equipment/clubhouse manager and Uncle Yosh was the Chicago Cubs equipment/clubhouse manager for 68 years. But before their success, the brothers were simply two kids who loved to play baseball.
During their early childhood, Dad and Uncle Yosh were sought-after baseball players amongst their group of friends. But as they grew older, playing a game in the nearest neighborhood field did not suffice.
Eventually, Uncle Yosh would bicycle from Boyle Heights to Pasadena to the Chicago White Sox’s spring training camp. He would go there nearly every day. Then one day the White Sox’s manager said, “Hey, kid, if you’re ever in Chicago, I’ll give you a job.”
Shortly thereafter, my teenage uncle was on his way to Chicago by himself with his father’s blessing and 50 dollars sewn into his clothes. But the journey did not immediately land him a job because the White Sox manager then exclaimed, “Hey, kid, you’re supposed to be in school!”
Nonetheless, this meeting was fortunate as it led to more contacts in professional baseball. Later, these contacts would help him to get out of Poston internment camp. When Uncle Yosh finally returned to Chicago, his drive and tenacity resulted in a job with the Chicago Cubs. Over the decades, he became a beloved team figure.
Many respected his honesty and integrity. According to one friend, “if you loaned Yosh $100 and came back in a year, Yosh would pay you back with $120!”
Recently, The Chicago Tribune honored his memory in print and online with an in-depth story of his life. And the Chicago Cubs made a generous donation to KSC&A in his honor. Uncle Yosh was also dubbed “the King of Wrigley Field” in recognition of his long tenure with his favorite team.
Dad’s start in baseball began with the Hollywood Stars. When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, my dad was hired as the equipment/clubhouse manager.
In that capacity, Dad was often on the road. Bonding time with him was limited to only three months during the year. Most people probably pitied me and my siblings, but I didn’t feel sad. I knew that Dad was happy, worked a job he loved, and was an indispensable part of the team.
For instance, Dad was also the steward on the Dodgers’ airplane and knew how to correctly distribute the luggage weight so that the plane could use its fuel most efficiently. During the one time he was not in charge of cargo loading, the plane had to make an emergency landing because it ran out of fuel.
Dad also came up with ingenious solutions for baseball’s unique problems. For instance, he invented a waterless baseball washing machine and special pants that protected the players’ skin from abrasion when they slid into base.
Dad was always on the side of the baseball players even if they didn’t realize it at the time or realize that what he was doing was in their best interest. For instance, Dad retrieved Sandy Koufax’s equipment from the trash when Mr. Koufax threw it away in frustration after a disappointing season.
The players loved and respected my dad. They made the work an endless joy for him. I can recall many instances where Dad came home smiling. He was always excited to learn something new.
For instance, after he returned home from San Francisco, he recounted how the flight was delayed and everyone was given complimentary food. But upon biting into a dinner roll, one player announced that the rolls were stale and threw the rock-hard roll across the room. Instantly, the air was filled with stale bread rolls. My dad’s advice for dealing with the situation was to get out as fast as possible because baseball players have superhuman strength and can throw really hard.
Dad and Uncle Yosh never complained. Their answer to any obstacle was to give more of yourself and work smarter, harder and longer. Furthermore, they never forgot their roots.
Remembering what Uncle Yosh and Dad had to go through to make a living, I felt sick as I came across old papers documenting the donations they made to Keiro. The pamphlets and letters from Keiro promised peace of mind and great care to the residents.
My father and Uncle were both residents of Keiro who believed in Keiro’s words that they would be cared for until the end. Keiro frittered away the promise they made by selling it to a for-profit organization. This company puts profit before people.
The act of selling without notifying the community dishonors the names of all who donated in the past. The juxtaposition of Keiro’s betrayal against the memory of Dad and Uncle Yosh’s honesty, integrity, and kindness is jarring.
The Kawano brothers came from nothing and bootstrapped their way to success. They wanted to give to others what they did not get as kids — food, safety and comfort. I feel sad that their memory has been disrespected by those who took their money, and in the end, they also took advantage of their goodness, kindness and sacrifice.
Hana Kawano is a life-long resident and native of Los Angeles, a retired RN and a hypnotherapist. She believes in anthropologist Margaret Mead’s statement, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”
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