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A Piece of the Past - September 2007

Japan Artifacts

One of the men responsible for helping Little League Baseball establish a stronghold in Japan has donated his collection of photographs and other memorabilia to the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum in South Williamsport, Pa.

Chester Dietzen, an airman stationed at Fuchu Air Force Base west of Tokyo in 1961 and 1962, fondly recalls his team’s first experience playing a team of Japanese boys.

Among the collection of photographs and other items that he donated to the museum is an April 29, 1962, letter that requested that he attend the opening day ceremonies for the Japanese league.

In retrospect, Dietzen says it was unfortunate that his tour of duty finished shortly before the May 13, 1962, opening date and he returned to the United States. It was a history-making event, he says now.

“We are most heartened by the many expressions of good will which we have received from American people throughout the Japanese community, and we also hope that our activity during this Little League season will sustain our confidence,” stated a letter signed by the president and vice president of the Gyokusen Little League in Kawasaki, a suburb of Tokyo.

When Dietzen, who now lives in Wisconsin, stopped by the museum to make his gift, he reflected on the initial game between the boys on the base and the native Japanese team.
An airman second class, Dietzen was told by Col. S.N. Black, who also was the Far East director of Little League, to field a team from Green Park, a housing complex for married military families, to play a game with youngsters from Kawasaki, Japan, in 1961.

It was a long, arduous trip from Fuchu to the suburb of Kawasaki, which was made even longer because the driver of the bus traveling the windy, mountainous road got lost. When the team finally arrived, the bus’s entrance into Kawaski was further delayed by the throngs of Japanese who flooded into the streets to accompany the bus to the ball field.

The Japanese spectators, awestruck watching the baseball techniques of the Americans, crowded around the field and players. After the game, festivities gave the boys a chance to meet each other.

The bus ride back to the base was filled with discussion about the game and the excitement of the day, Dietzen said.

When the team was invited to a second game, Dietzen said he had no trouble finding boys who wanted to go play. However, the American ballplayers were not the novelty that they had been the first time so there were very few spectators.

Japan made its World Series debut with a team from Kunitachi, a suburb of Tokyo, in 1962. The nation’s first series championship was won in 1967. The United States military was instrumental in the growth of Little League there. The first league was franchised in 1960.

Today Japan boasts one of the greatest number of Little League programs (299) among countries outside the U.S. In 2007, Japan became its own region for Little League Baseball World Series play. Previously it was part of the Far East and Asia designations.

The exhibit is included in the World Series Room of the museum, which is at 525 Route 15 Highway about two miles south of Williamsport. It is open for its winter hours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Thursday and Friday; noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Summer hours are from Memorial Day through Labor Day and are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 7 p.m. Sunday. The facility is accessible to the disabled.

Rates are $5 for adults; $3 for those 62 and older; and $1.50 for children between the ages of 5 and 13. There is no fee for children 4 or younger. For more information, call the museum at 570-326-3607, or click here for more information.