Book delves into baseball’s spirit world

by Scott Dixon

Kyodo News

NEW YORK — Koshien Stadium is home to one of Japan’s most sacred traditions: the annual high school baseball tournament.

But according to many players and fans, Koshien, located near Kobe and home to the Hanshin Tigers, also hosts an “ominous, powerful force . . . that even prayer and ritual can’t exorcise,” according to a recent book about ballparks around the world.

While researching the book, coauthor Dan Gordon spent much time at Koshien Stadium interviewing players, coaches, fans and journalists, and experienced firsthand the intensity and passion of the high school tournament.

“Koshien was remarkable,” Gordon said in an interview, citing “the intensity, the atmosphere, the passion, the Bushido spirit.”

“Field of Screams: Haunted Tales from the Baseball Diamond, the Locker Room and Beyond” is the second book from Gordon and Mickey Bradley exploring baseball rituals, curses and things that go bump in the night, following “Haunted Baseball,” published in 2007.

One of its chapters, titled “The Land of the Rising Dead,” delves into how the rich spiritual traditions of Japan affect the baseball diamond.

Gordon, a Boston Red Sox fan, became interested in Japan after winning the Thomas J. Watson scholarship in 1987 to study baseball overseas — in Japan, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.

“I was, of course, interested in both Japanese baseball and in the culture and how baseball reveals the culture,” he said.

Gordon began research for the chapter in 2006, traveling to Japan three times to conduct interviews. He visited teams from Tokyo to Sendai to Hiroshima.

He found the interviewees open and very happy to talk about the “supernatural” side of baseball.

“My impression is that, in Japan, because superstition and religion are interwoven, it’s part of the culture,” Gordon said. “People are very comfortable to talk about it.”

Gordon recalled highlights of his research during the three trips to Japan, including an interview with the manager of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, Makoto Kito.

In the book, Kito tells Gordon that when he was a player with the Hiroshima Carp he had two separate encounters with what he believed were spirits in the team’s dormitories. After the second incident, Kito moved out of the dorm.

Another interview that left an impression on Gordon was with current Rakuten player Takeshi Yamasaki, who spoke about ghost stories in Hiroshima, Okinawa and the hotels used by many baseball teams.

Yamasaki theorizes that the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake may have resulted in a ghost stalking the Takezono Ashiya Hotel in Osaka. He thinks that an employee who died in the earthquake might still be occupying the hotel’s fourth or fifth floor.

Although Massachusetts native Gordon has never had a “convincing experience” with the supernatural, he says he has no reason to doubt the stories recorded in his book. He and Bradley sought to record the episodes as observers, “almost like folklorists.”

“Mickey and I decided early on that we would not try to put our opinions in the book,” Gordon said.

Gordon admitted to being a superstitious Red Sox fan. “Boston fans are usually superstitious,” he said, mentioning a habit of “sitting a certain way” when watching a game.

“Field of Screams” was released in August and features stories about baseball from all over the world.

Gordon said he believes baseball, as a slower paced sport, lets fans “get to know the personality of the players.”

Although the game requires individual skill, the teamwork behind baseball is what Gordon thinks inspires the fans and, especially in Japan, makes it such a popular sport.

“There are a lot of stories in baseball, no matter what culture,” Gordon said. “I think every culture plays the game for slightly different reasons.”