People, players of all backgrounds find common ground around American pastime
By Tim Rowland
It wasn’t a hike, it wasn’t a paddle, it wasn’t a bike ride. But as adventures go, we were exploring some lightly trammeled Adirondack ground that ought to be better known.
I’ve been working (loosely defined) on a story about Adirondack baseball for next summer’s Explorer, and my travels have so far taken me to Ticonderoga, Moriah, Au Sable Forks and, most recently, Tupper Lake, where on Saturday we watched the Empire League All Star Game at Municipal Park, home of the Tupper Lake Riverpigs.
The baseball was of high quality, as good or better — they were All Stars, after all — than you might see out of a typical Class A Minor League squad. The fledgling independent Empire League is just getting its feet under it, and is currently fielding four teams: The Riverpigs, the Saranac Lake Surge, the Plattsburgh Thunderbirds and the Japan Islanders. Yes, *that* Japan.
The baseball story can be told another day, but what struck Tupper Lake Mayor Paul Maroun and I as an important aside was the wonderful cultural cross pollination taking place between and outside the lines.
Maroun noted that diversity is a big Adirondack talking point these days, and that for families fearing they’re not getting enough of it, Municipal Park is the place to be. (It’s not bad for the sunsets on Moody Pond over the left field fence, either.)
Many races and nationalities are represented, and is typically the case with sports, mountainous differences in race and nationality fade into pleasant rolling hills that complement and brighten the game.
Among the players, there is a commonality of purpose. They all want to make it to the next level, and are using the league as an audition for American and Japanese scouts. Only through the miracle of baseball could I wind up chatting via a smartphone translator app with a young Japanese woman whose love of sports transported her from her home city in Osaka (population: 2.7 million) to the Adirondack outpost of Tupper Lake (population: less than 2.7 million). Kira Kuwamoto is the only female player in the league, where she’s gotten a few hits and hopes to add a few more before the short season ends.
She and her teammates had come to play in an American independent league in hopes of being noticed by teams higher on the food chain. So far they hadn’t, and everyone was feeling pressure to get hot before the opportunity was gone.
But promoted or not, all are richer for the experience. “I love this place; the people in the town are very kind,” Kuwamoto said.
You would expect that Kuwamoto would be a role model for little Tupper Lake girls. Maybe more notable, she was clearly a role model for little Tupper Lake boys who lined up for pictures and autographs.
Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, didn’t matter. The players were idolized equally. These players spoke glowingly of their Tupper hosts, and the people of Tupper spoke glowingly of them. After the game, a tot burst into tears after being told by his mother that little boys were not allowed on the field. Without missing a beat, a player scooped him up in his arms and carried him out for group photos.
Sports have their problems. But they also have the power to show beyond a doubt that, if only for a few hours on a sleepy Saturday evening in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, we can all get along.
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