Balcomb: Japanese baseball began on my family’s farm in Maine

From Theo Balcomb at on March 28, 2014:

There’s this strange story about my family that doesn’t often come up in casual conversation. We don’t talk about it much. I had to prod them when I donned my headphones and stuck a microphone in their faces to do this story. But as soon as we share, people shout, “Why didn’t you tell me about that before?”

Here it is: My great-great-great-uncle introduced baseball to Japan.

No one in my family knew for generations, and in 2000 a fleet of Japanese people came to our farm in rural Maine and surprised us with an invitation to visit their country to promote the legacy of Horace Wilson — a man my family had more or less forgotten.

We had to enlist our oldest relative just to identify him in the portrait from around 1860 that hangs in our house (and is at the top of this story). We weren’t sure which brother he was. Mustache, no mustache? Furrowed brow or contemplative gaze?

Here’s what the Japanese told us about our uncle: After he left the farm and fought in the Civil War, Horace traveled to Japan in 1871 for reasons we’ve never uncovered. He then taught at what would become Tokyo University.

As the story goes, he taught his students a game at recess involving bases and a bat and, with that, brought baseball to the country. While Horace wrote home to Maine every now and then, he never once mentioned baseball, or even Japan.

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Originally published: March 28, 2014. Last Updated: March 28, 2014.