Light links Dodgers, Japan

Stone lantern in nearby garden a gift from renowned sportswriter

"The lantern contains a light, and the light is a symbol of our enduring relationship with the people of Japan," said Frank McCourt. (Ben Platt/MLB.com)

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LOS ANGELES -- During the summer, when the sun sets at Dodger Stadium, one can see from the press box a single light shining in the hills behind right field. Most people have no idea what the light means, but to the Dodgers it symbolizes the organization's long relationship with Japan.

On Sunday, before Japan and Team USA's semifinal game at the World Baseball Classic, Dodgers chairman Frank McCourt and Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda spoke about the relationship at the Japanese garden where the light resides.

"The Dodgers are perhaps one of the most international of all baseball franchises," said McCourt, who continued the Dodgers' involvement in international baseball when the team visited Beijing for two exhibition games with the Padres last year. "A great example of that type of relationship is our relationship with Japan, which this lantern symbolizes."

When the ballpark opened, in 1962, the Dodgers invited the dean of Japanese sportswriters, Sotaro Suzuki, to the dedication ceremonies. Upon Suzuki's return to Japan, he commissioned a stone lantern to commemorate the opening.

The lantern was shipped to Dodger Stadium in the winter of 1965 and placed in a Japanese garden on a hill adjacent to Parking Lot 6 beyond the Right Field Pavilion. For many years, former Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley visited the garden on a regular basis, sitting on a bench that faces Dodger Stadium and clearing his head. O'Malley had plants and trees from the team's former Spring Training home in Vero Beach, Fla., flown in and planted around the lamp. The organization's groundskeepers maintained the garden for many years.

A rededication ceremony of the garden took place in 2003.

"Suzuki was a bridge-builder between Japan, the U.S. and Major League Baseball," said McCourt. "The lantern contains a light, and the light is a symbol of our enduring relationship with the people of Japan and, of course, the game of baseball, [which] brings us all together."

The Dodgers have played and taught baseball in Japan, and they have been welcoming Japanese teams and teachers to Dodger Stadium and the team's Spring Training home since 1956. Those relationships led to the breakthrough signing of Hideo Nomo and the more than 25 Japan-born Major Leaguers who have followed, including Ichiro Suzuki, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kosuke Fukudome, all of whom are playing for Team Japan in this year's Classic.

The club's longstanding relationship was recognized this past December by the Emperor of Japan, who bestowed upon Lasorda, now special advisor to McCourt, the Order of the Rising Sun Award, presented in ceremonies by Junichi Ihara, the Consul General of Japan. The Order of the Rising Sun is the second-highest award that a foreigner can receive.

"We are proud of our relationship with Japanese baseball," said Lasorda, who for the second time is serving as a special ambassador for the World Baseball Classic. "The Order of the Rising Sun didn't belong to just me. It belongs to the Dodgers, the O'Malleys, to McCourt and many other people. We will continue our relationship with Japan, and we are proud of that, and we are proud of this lantern, [which] will shine long after we're all gone. It will be here forever as a token of our esteem and appreciation to Japan."

So if you visit Dodger Stadium one night for a game, look out to right field and see the light that represents a long friendship between a team and a country.

Ben Platt is a national correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.