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League of Nations
By Ken LaZebnik

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from the one-act play, League of Nations, directed by Jack Reuler, which premiered at the Mixed Blood Theater in Minneapolis on March 20, 2002. The complete version of the play will be published later this year by Knothole Press.


(The stage reflects elements evocative of a baseball field: A mound of dirt in the middle. A low slung cyclorama or scrim, like an outfield wall. Above and beyond the wall we see a full moon, fading into the dawn. We are at the pitching mound of the California Angels spring training field. A lone figure enters—AKIRA TANAKA, twenty-eight, a Japanese pitcher new to America. He wears pure white sweat clothes.)

(He holds a baseball, white as the moon. Eyes have been drawn on the ball, one of them painted shut. Akira leans down and digs a hole in the dirt of the mound. He then holds the ball before him, in invocation.)

AKIRA (quoting Buddha, in Japanese): Tsuki no you ni, kumo no kage kara arawaretamae. Kagayakitamae! (Like the moon, come out from behind the clouds! Shine.)

(He leans down and continues digging the hole—he's going to bury the ball. An offstage voice startles him.)

GROUNDSKEEPER: Get off there. Not yours yet.

(Akira looks up. The GROUNDSKEEPER, ancient, a hooded sweatshirt pulled close over his head, hobbles on. He carries a rake, like the angel of death with his scythe.)

You can't dig that up. It's mine 'til seven.

AKIRA (not understanding): Boku, shinjin nandesuyo. Tanaka Akira to iimasu. (I am new here. Akira Tanaka.)

GROUNDSKEEPER (in Spanish): Habla espanol? No es carves. Tengo que rascar . . . Habla espanol? (You speak Spanish? Don't dig that up. I've got to rake. You speak Spanish?)

AKIRA (shaking his head): Ano, nani ittendaka wakarimasen. (I don't understand.)

GROUNDSKEEPER (gesturing): You. Off. Not your field yet.

(MR. HASHIMOTO, forty-five, has entered. In his nondescript suit, he could have come off any Tokyo subway, the perfect company man.)

(He bows slightly to the Groundskeeper and addresses him in English.)

MR. HASHIMOTO: Please excuse him. He is Akira Tanaka, your new pitcher.

GROUNDSKEEPER (unimpressed): He can't dig it up. I got to rake. It's mine until seven.

MR. HASHIMOTO (to Akira): Maundo kara dokette itterundesuyo. Korekara koko wo kaki nalasanaito ikenai soudes. (He is asking you to please get off the mound. He needs to rake it.)

(Akira bows politely to the Groundskeeper and steps off.)

AKIRA: Aah, sumimasen. Shitsureishimashita. (I am very sorry. Please excuse me.)

MR. HASHIMOTO: Tanaka-san apologizes. He was attempting to . . . (struggling to explain the ritual) . . . get a feel for his new pitching surface.

GROUNDSKEEPER: All that money he's getting won't do him much good if I can't rake. Every year I tell them—after seven A.M., it's yours. Before that, it's mine.

MR. HASHIMOTO: Tanaka-san is deeply regretful.

GROUNDSKEEPER: Just let me rake.

(The Groundskeeper starts raking down the dirt; Mr. Hashimoto and Akira step to one side. Mr. Hashimoto bows to Akira and hands him his business card.)

MR. HASHIMOTO: Doumo, ohayoh gozaimasu. Hashimoto Hitoshi, anata no tsuyaku o tsutome sasete itadakimasu. (Pleased to meet you. I'm Hitoshi Hashimoto. Your interpreter.)

AKIRA: A, doumo, Hajime mashite. Tanaka Akira desu. Yoroshiku onegai shimas! (Akira Tanaka. How are you?)

(We now FLIP LANGUAGES: the conceit is that while Akira and Mr. Hashimoto are speaking Japanese, we hear them in English.)

MR. HASHIMOTO: My apologies for interrupting your solitude. I'm always early. Tell me to be somewhere at seven, I'll get there at six. (a beat) You can rely on me.

(A pause. Mr. Hashimoto looks at the ball.)

Your ball is winking at me.

AKIRA: It's not from here.


AKIRA: It's Japanese. (showing the ball) I brought it with me.

MR. HASHIMOTO: With the wink.

AKIRA: It's a daruma.

MR. HASHIMOTO (understanding): Ah, you wanted to bury it.

AKIRA: Now my wish won't come true.

MR. HASHIMOTO: If you believe in such things.

AKIRA: Yes, if you believe in such things. (Pause.)


AKIRA: I need all the luck I can get.

MR. HASHIMOTO: Not you. Not with your arm.

(Akira looks at the horizon.)

AKIRA: The sun's coming up. It's Higan, you know.

MR. HASHIMOTO: Today's the Spring Equinox? My days got turned around on the plane.

AKIRA: On Higan I've always travelled home to Nagano.

MR. HASHIMOTO: Good for you. I didn't think anyone still did that.

AKIRA: Every other year I'd be at my mother's grave right now.

MR. HASHIMOTO: You are a good son. I hope my son will do the same.

AKIRA: I like the drive. Up to the roof of Japan. Nobody around.

MR. HASHIMOTO: Your father—

AKIRA (cutting this short): He's no longer at home. He is far away.

MR. HASHIMOTO: So are we. Do you like the desert?

AKIRA: Is this desert? You can't tell anymore.

MR. HASHIMOTO: Americans like to transform things, don't they? (He sighs.) The žother shoreÓ seems very far this year. But I will be your bridge. A long bridge, covering a great distance. That is what an interpreter becomes.

(Akira looks at the mound.)

AKIRA: Why should I visit a grave? A mound of dirt, surrounded by grass. I make my living standing on one.

(Behind them, two players in sweats jog by slowly; the day's work is beginning. Mr. Hashimoto looks at the players jogging.)

MR. HASHIMOTO: Jya, jikandesu. Ikimashou! (Time to go to work!)

(Akira tosses the ball up and catches it. He nods in agreement and they exit.)



(The bullpen, in the midst of that afternoon's Cactus League game. In the background, we can hear the sounds of the ballpark: announcer, organ, the fans, the vendors. Three relief pitchers sit on folding chairs. Two are veterans: DARRIS STOBBS, an imposing man with a wry grin, and the wiry JOAQUIN žSEGUROÓ LOPEZ. WAHBO LEE, eager, sits next to his temporary interpreter, P. K. PARK, in glasses, slight, aloof. And, we might add, female. Darris has a bag of popcorn. There is some distance between the two couples, Darris and Joaquin, Wah-Bo and P. K. At times the conversation is general and at times Joaquin and Darris are talking just between themselves. We see P. K. weighing which comments are appropriate for translation, part of her difficult balancing act.)

(Another unseen pitcher is, apparently, offstage warming up, because a

ball whizzes by from stage left to stage right. There's a žthumpÓ offstage right as it lands in a catcher's mitt.)

DARRIS (not impressed): Shit.

P. K. (translating for Wah-Bo. In Korean): Cheggil. (Shit.)

(The ball is thrown back across the stage, returning from the catcher to the pitcher.)

DARRIS: Chino's throwing cantaloupes.

JOAQUIN: Couldn't break glass.

P. K. (translating): Cantaloupe. Yurido Motgaegetda. (A cantaloupe. Couldn't break glass.)

(The ball is again thrown by the pitcher.)

JOAQUIN: Chino better get it in gear. They got to make room for Tanaka and that cheese ain't gonna cut it.

WAH-BO (to P. K.): Cantaloupe-he Uimido nahn molatsuh. Naemsaeinga? (I didn't understand the significance of the cantaloupe. Is it the smell?)

P. K. (to Darris, in English): Is the smell significant?

DARRIS: Smell?

P.K.: You called his pitch a cantaloupe. Do you mean it stinks?

DARRIS: It looks big. Hitters won't be fooled.

(P. K. nods and turns to Wah-Bo.)

P. K.: Cantaloupe-un pitch-han gong-I keugge boindanun maria. (The cantaloupe refers to the fact that the pitch looks big.)

WAH-BO (nodding): Kwanyong-o-ran charm joongyohan-goguna. (Idioms are so crucial.)

P. K. (to Darris, in English): Wah-Bo wants to learn American idioms.

JOAQUIN (in Spanish): Pedaso de mierda. (Piece of shit.) There's an idiom for you. Pedaso de mierda.

P. K.: Sorry. My Spanish is rusty.

JOAQUIN: Pedaso de mierda. Piece of shit.

(P. K. pauses, then starts to translate into Korean.)

P. K.: Gatdonggatdan maria. (Piece of shit.)

(Wah-Bo looks at Joaquin, surprised and amused. As he does, CHINO HOYTACK, the unseen pitcher, runs in. Chino is twenty-six, large, blonde, straight out of Long Beach.)

CHINO: See the rotation on that last pitch?

DARRIS: Beautiful, Chino.

JOAQUIN: You're looking great, man.

CHINO: It was bitchin'!

(He runs back to warm up some more.)

JOAQUIN: Chino's toast. My two-year-old could hit his deuce.

DARRIS: The man's left-handed.

JOAQUIN (disgusted): Left-handed.

DARRIS: Lefty with a deuce. Hard to cut.

JOAQUIN: Why wasn't I born left-handed? Just be left-handed. That's it, man. You pitch forever.

DARRIS: Like Jesse Orosco.

JOAQUIN: Like Jesse Orosco. That fucker's fifty-five years old. Says he's forty-four. Bullshit. The guy's got an AARP card. For real! He showed it to me.

P. K. (struggling to keep up): Wensonjabi-ga johun-de. Jesse Oroscochorom. Nahi-ga mahni moggutsso. (Good to be left-handed. Jesse Orosco. Very old. Joining retirement association.)

(Darris is chuckling. Wah-Bo looks to P. K. who pauses, then gives up.)

Nongdahmiya. (It's a joke.) (To the others) That was supposed to be funny, right?

JOAQUIN: Yeah, thanks.

P. K.: Jokes are hard to interpret.

JOAQUIN (Continues; ironic): Nice to have an interpreter.

P. K.: Yes.

JOAQUIN: Sorry about the language, but I can't change the way I talk just Žcause a woman's out here.

P. K.: I'll do my job, don't worry.

WAH-BO (in Korean): Mworahgoh? (What?)

(P. K. starts to translate, but Darris interrupts.)

DARRIS: It's all good. It's all beautiful. Another beautiful day. Sun's shining, we get to throw a baseball for a living, Joaquin's got a beautiful wife holding a two-year-old son in the stands—it's all good.

(P. K. translates in short hand.)

P. K.: Insaengiran charm johtta. Joaquin-e ahduldo watso. Nahissi johtta. (Life is good. Joaquin's son is here. It's beautiful.)

(A beat. Joaquin, glancing at P. K., leans into Darris for a private conversation.)

JOAQUIN: First time you remember your father—how old were you?

DARRIS (pauses, then): Four. Must have been four. I remember moving into the Huntsville house. I was wandering around all these huge cardboard boxes. Looked like they were skyscrapers to me. And I pulled one over and there was this big crash of china or something and here comes Papa with the belt. (He chuckles.)

JOAQUIN: Four. That's when I remember my papa, too. Christmas in Ciudad Lerdo. We must have been walking to a posada. We celebrated for nine nights, each night a posada.

DARRIS: A party?

JOAQUIN: Yes, we walked to them, like pilgrims. Papa had a candle in his hand and a beer in the other. I must have been four years old. We moved out of Ciudad Lerdo when I was five. But I remember the candle and the beer. . . . I need two more years. Two more years for Jorge to remember me pitching. I want him to remember me pitching in the big leagues.

DARRIS: That'd be beautiful.

JOAQUIN: Your son ever see you pitch?

DARRIS: Roberta kept him out of my path . . . (shaking his head). Lot of stuff went down.

(He turns to Wah-Bo, and offers the bag of popcorn.)

Help yourself.

(Wah-Bo takes the bag, with a slight nod. He lowers his head and starts eating at a furious pace. Chino enters and, along with the others, watches him in awe.)

JOAQUIN: Man. That's some serious eating.

DARRIS: Wah don't mess around at the table. You see him yesterday? Rosemary pork chops didn't have a chance. Bam! Lowers his head and gets down to business.

(P. K. has not translated the above. As a rule, she doesn't translate while Wah-Bo eats.)

CHINO: We've got to get this dude to a smorgasbord. See what kind of damage this fucker can do.

P. K.: In Korea, this is how they eat.

CHINO: You dudes really chow down, man.

P. K.: Meal time is not a time for conversation. It's a time to eat. The faster you eat, the more you eat. Better to eat quick.

DARRIS: Joaquin, you should check out kimchi. Good stuff.

JOAQUIN: No, thanks, man. (discretely lowering his voice) I want nothing to do with foreign food. I had some Ethiopian shit once, laid me out for a week.

CHINO: Foreign food? Seaweed, soy shakes, wheatgrass—all you eat is foreign food, man.

JOAQUIN: That's health food, Chino. Health. As in, people die of malnutrition in Ethiopia, so why should I copy their diet?

(Wah-Bo hands back the empty bag. The other pitchers give him a round of applause. Wah-Bo looks up, confused. We FLIP LANGUAGES as Wah-Bo leans confidentially into P. K.)

WAH-BO: Why are they clapping?

P. K.: They were impressed with your eating.

WAH-BO: They're smiling. Was it funny?

P. K.: Americans are peculiar about food. We're always eating but we never just sit down and eat. We talk, we walk, we eat while we're watching TV—we don't take it seriously.

WAH-BO: Then neither should I. Next time . . . I'll eat intermittently. Casually. Everything's casual in America. I'll be more casual. That's the key.

P. K.: You don't have to adopt our style.

WAH-BO (with determination): I'm going to succeed here. I am going to do whatever it takes to succeed. (Turning toward Darris) Darris. Darris.

(Darris hears his name, turns to Wah-Bo and we FLIP LANGUAGES again.)

Naega oryotsul jogge nehga Reds-wa kyunggi hanungo bwatso. (I saw you play with the Reds when I was a kid. You were my hero.)

P. K. (takes a breath, then translates): I saw you play with the Reds when I was a kid. You were my hero.

DARRIS: When you were a kid, huh? Back in the day. Back when I was a starter. On that Far East tour. Four operations ago.

(Note: At this point, P. K. translates English into Korean simultaneously for Wah-Bo. Her translation is sotte voce unless otherwise indicated.)

WAH-BO: Jaedul mahl nan midunjog opso. (I never believed what they said.)

P.K.: I never believed what they said.

DARRIS: You should have, man. It was all true.

CHINO: What?

DARRIS: Busted in Seoul for an ounce of pot.


DARRIS: Long time ago, my friend.

JOAQUIN: Pot? I thought you got busted for coke.

DARRIS: That was later. Seoul was pot.

CHINO (admiring): Party down, Darris.

DARRIS: Long ago, man. That was long ago. Baseball pulled me out. (tossing a ball) Long as I keep this ball up in the air, I'll be okay.

(A slight pause. We hear the sound of a BASES-CLEARING HIT from the game.)

CHINO (reacting to the hit): Boom. Another pitcher heads down. Man, that ball was crushed so bad, that sucker's headed back to Double A. Forget Triple. You're back to the bushes, sucker.

(Joaquin shouts out to the unseen pitcher in Spanish.)

JOAQUIN (in Spanish): Esta bien. El le pego a una buena pichada. Eso pasa habeses. No te des por vencido con esa pichada. (It's okay. He hit a good pitch. It happens sometimes. Don't give up on that pitch.)

(to himself) Poor bastard.

DARRIS: There but for the grace of God go us all, Joaquin.

JOAQUIN: There but for my knuckle curve.

DARRIS: You aren't working on that thing again, are you?

JOAQUIN: I'm telling you, man, it's going to be a killer. (Spanglish) El batter morte. Add three years to my career.

DARRIS (to Chino): He's going with the long putter.

CHINO: Getting desperate, dude. Putting a long putter in the bag.

JOAQUIN: Got to do something. Tanaka's going to take someone's seat on the bus. (shakes his head) Eighty million. Guy's never played over here.

DARRIS: Neither had Nomo.

CHINO: Neither had Suzuki.

JOAQUIN: Eighty million. I never had an interpreter. Some guy from the DR was supposed to help me out. Shit. Sucker had never seen indoor plumbing until he got to America and he's supposed to tell me what the story was. I had to work my way up every step of the ladder by myself, man.

DARRIS: A black kid coming out of Huntsville—that ladder has a couple of extra steps, you know what I'm saying?

JOAQUIN: I hear you. And they hand this guy eighty million. (in Spanish) Yo camine cada pinche paso de la escalera. (I walked up every fucking step of the ladder.)

DARRIS: Eighty mil. Not a day in the bigs.

(Wah-Bo stands and bows. He moves off, studying the game. P. K. takes note, steps to the other pitchers.)

P. K.: Excuse me. Wah-Bo doesn't mean any disrespect. He's conscious of the fact that last July, he, too, signed a large contract before pitching in the major leagues. His discomfort stems from a botched save attempt last September.

CHINO: You got all that from a bow?

P. K.: There's spoken language and there's body language. I interpret both.

DARRIS: You're gonna do just fine this week, P. K.

(Akira enters with Mr. Hashimoto. He stands to one side, looking out at the game. Darris takes note.)

So, here's the man. You're the man, right? You're going to put us over the top, right?

MR. HASHIMOTO (in Japanese): Koitsu dayo, oretachi wo katasete kureru yatsu wa. Soudaro, katasete kurerundaro tte. (Here's the man. You're going to put us over the top, right?)

AKIRA (in Japanese, embarrassed): Iyaiya, sonnani umakunaidesuyo. (No, no, I am not that good.)

MR. HASHIMOTO (in Japanese): America dewa kennson shinakute iindesuyo. (In America, you don't have to be modest.)

(in English) He is modest. He's saying he's not that good. I am Hitoshi Hashimoto, Tanaka-san's interpreter. We are both pleased to meet you.

DARRIS: That's cool. Darris Stobbs. (making introductions) This is Joaquin Lopez. That's Chino. And this is P. K. Park. (gesturing toward Wah-Bo) She's Wah-Bo Lee's interpreter this week.

MR. HASHIMOTO: Arega Hoakin to Chino, soshite Wah-Bo to sono tsuuyaku no P. K. (That's Chino. The other is Wah-Bo and his interpreter P. K.)

AKIRA: Doumo hajime mashite. (Pleased to meet you.)

(Seeing Akira, Wah-Bo has stepped back over.)

P. K. (translating for Wah-Bo, in Korean): Nah Tanaka Akir-indeh. Woorirul sungnitim-i dweggeh haejoondae. (This is Tanaka Akira. They say he's going to put us over the top.)

(Wah-Bo reacts with an angry look. He nods and steps away.)

MR. HASHIMOTO (bowing to P. K.): Park P. K., I see your client does not believe in formalities.

P. K.: He was in Akira's position last summer. The reliever who would put the team over the top.

MR. HASHIMOTO (innocent): But they did not win the pennant, did they?

P. K. (dryly): I see you read the papers.

AKIRA (in Japanese, to Darris): Koko, suwattemo yoroshii deska? (Is this seat taken?)

MR. HASHIMOTO: Is this seat taken?

(Darris sees something on the field.)

DARRIS: Chino, he's waving you in.

(Chino heads in to pitch.)

Remember—Aurilia loves it low. Bust it up and in on him. Then breaking balls away. You're gonna do fine.

CHINO (full of hubris): No worries, he ain't catching up with my cheese today.

(Chino exits. A beat. Joaquin shakes his head after the young pitcher.)

JOAQUIN: Throwing fucking cantaloupes.

DARRIS: Akira, I believe Chino's just about to make room for you.

To read the rest of this story, click here to order a copy of the Summer 2003 issue.



KEN LaZEBNIK has written for such television programs as Jack’s Place, The Paula Poundstone Show, and Touched By An Angel. He lives in Studio City, California, with his wife and two sons.

© 2003 Ken LaZebnik


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