On a remote baseball field, a young Nisei
(2nd generation Japanese American) pitcher struggles on the mound. The Umpire
) addresses the audience, introducing the players: Zip
), star pitcher for the Desert Carp, and his best friend Hog
), the catcher. It is the 4th of July Championship Game, being played in a World War II concentration camp for Japanese Americans. The Umpire tells their story, going back to two months ago...
After the game on Boy's Day (May 5th, a Japanese American holiday), Zip is awarded the Most Valuable Player trophy. Walking home from the field, Zip and Hog bump into Betty (Diana Toshiko
) and Sadie (Sarah Chang
), who hope to see the boys at the dance that night. But Zip's mind is on a girl named Rose.
The Umpire talks about the curve ball...
That evening, Zip learns his parents (Alan Muraoka
and Keiko Kawashima
) have decided to return to Japan on a prisoner exchange ship. His father is ill. He cannot walk and is dying, and wants to be buried in the ancestral cemetery. Zip assumes that he'll be going to Japan with his parents. However, the father has decided that Zip is to stay behind. Zip tries desperately to persuade them to change their decision. Father says, "No."
The Umpire explains the sacrifice bunt...
On the day of their departure, Zip gives his MVP trophy to his parents. They give him a photo of themselves. Zip then goes to carry his father out of the barracks. But, his father is too proud, and insists on walking out using his own strength. He struggles to stand and tries to walk but is too weak; Zip carries him to the bus.
The Umpire admits he may make a bad call...
Weeks pass and Zip has not heard from his parents. Hog, along with friends Satch (Jonathan Okui
) and Tad (Ulysses Lee
), try to cheer him up with a poker game. Hog tries to get Zip to bet his prized possession: a photo of his hero Joe DiMaggio
that's pinned to the wall. Zip's not interested. He worries about his parents, having no idea where they are, or how his father is doing. Zip chastises himself for not being with them to help.
Back at the big 4th of July Championship Game, where the story began: Zip is on the mound and has lost confidence. But then he recalls a letter that had arrived that morning, from his parents. In the letter, his father tells Zip he is proud of his son. He has also written Zip a poem. The letter helps Zip accept why his father made him stay behind: America is his home. It is the country where he belongs and where he needs to carry on the family name. Zip is rejuvenated. His fastball returns, and he strikes out the last batter. The Carp win.
The Umpire smiles. His day is done.
Back in his barracks room, Zip takes down the photo of DiMaggio, replacing it with the photo of his parents -- his true heroes. That night, at the 4th of July dance, he gives the photo to Hog. And, he dances with Rose (Gina Hiraizumi