October Moments: Celebrating the History of Nisei Baseball
With spring season in bloom, the timeless beauty and classic traditions of another baseball season takes center stage on fields across America. As a young boy growing up in Los Angeles, Peter Chen idolized Steve Garvey of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and was inspired by the beauty of the sport. As a successful artist, he has woven his love of baseball with his creative talents to celebrate baseball history.
As a second-generation Asian American, Peter Chen always enjoyed drawing, painting, and the arts. After studying architecture at UC Berkeley, he decided to teach in hopes of empowering urban youth through the arts. “I never considered art as career because I didn’t think I would be able to earn enough to support a family,” says Chen. But after 3 years teaching art, student disciplinary issues took their toll, and Chen, who missed creating his own art, jumped back into the art world as a web/graphic designer, and painting during his free time.
In 2007, Chen established OCTOBER MOMENTS, a casual clothing company dedicated to celebrating baseball history and some of its greatest moments. The company also features a vintage Nisei Baseball Collection. “I have fond memories of playing baseball with my brother, my friends, and even my sisters, and I loved the feeling of throwing, catching, and hitting the ball,” says Chen. “I wasn't the best at it, but that never held me back,” he continues. “And then, the only year I played Little League, my team ended up winning the championship. That was the same year the Dodgers won the World Series in '81, and there was no looking back after that,” says Chen.
Growing up, Chen yearned for an Asian baseball hero, similar to today’s heroes like Ichiro, or Daisuke Matsuzaka. “Learning about Nisei ballplayers was a revisiting of my childhood,” recalls Chen. While researching the Nisei baseball leagues, Chen found a number of inspirational Nisei moments. “If you had told me that a 13-year-old was responsible for founding the greatest franchise in Hawaiian baseball history, I would have laughed in disbelief,” says Chen of Steere Noda, who organized the Hawaiian Asahi in 1905. The Asahi went on to win numerous championships in its 76-year history. “I also found that the Nisei really loved and supported their local teams,” he continues. “For example, the L.A. Nippon were known as the ‘Pride of ‘lil Tokio’ long before the Dodgers and Lakers came to town.”
To help bring the history of Nisei baseball to the forefront, Chen created his Nisei Baseball Collection line. “I thought, what better way to celebrate the history of these teams AND give people the opportunity to take pride in their heritage by offering baseball shirts,” recalls Chen. “So, I made the decision to create the shirts, and also discover as many team colors and logos as possible,” he says. “OCTOBER MOMENTS was started because I wanted to create a very simple baseball brand that a baseball fan could identify with, and provide the opportunity to wear some of favorite memories in the form of game patches on their sleeves...a sort of local pride,” says Chen.
For Chen, there is nothing more beautiful in sports than hearing the crack of the bat and watching ballplayers play on a sunlit field in late afternoon. As an artist, he has been inspired by Norman Rockwell for his skillful attention to detail, capturing emotion and creative compositions, as well as Monet and Hopper, for their genius with light and shadow. Through his work honoring the Nisei baseball leagues, he continues to find inspiration for his art. “Last year at the Terminal Island Annual Picnic, I was privileged to meet the widow of one of the San Pedro Skippers,” recalls Chen. “She mentioned how the Skippers shirt brought back fond memories of her husband,” says Chen.
Currently, Chen is working on a color photo illustration of a Nisei ballplayer, with the goal to bring the young Nisei ballplayer closer to life by showing him in full color. He remains a huge fan of the game. “Even though the Lord did not bless me with any of the 5 tools of baseball, I still enjoy the game immensely,” says Chen. “So, if you have a favorite baseball or Nisei baseball story to tell, I would love to hear it.”
Visit October Moments' website to see their entire Nisei Baseball Collection www.octobermoments.com.
See some photos, post comments about this article, or share your own Japanese American baseball stories on DiscoverNikkei.org.