Up until roughly 20 years ago, not a lot of international players would go out of their way to come to the United States to play professional baseball. However, a former Los Angeles Dodger proved to be a trendsetter for the future athletes to follow.
Hideo Nomo, who was one of the best pitchers in Dodgers’ history, accumulated a fair amount of accolades in his career. The 12-year veteran won the Rookie of the Year award in 1995 and also threw a no-hitter in 1996 at Coors Field.
Although he may not know it, the 45 year old laid the foundation for players like Ichiro Suzuki, Yu Darvish, and Masahiro Tanaka to follow in his footsteps and flourish. Now Nomo has turned his attention to helping youth in Japan.
Head of the Nomo Project team, the former Dodger discussed the value of Japanese youth being able to face kids from the United States, via Ben Platt of MLB.com:
In Japan, Major League Baseball is such a big presence in the world of baseball. Having our kids come over here and play with local kids their same age has been a great opportunity and experience for them.”
The team heads to the United States to compete in the Japan-USA International Junior High School Baseball Federation Series. The program allows some of the best young baseball players in Japan to face off against young All-Stars in the United States.
The program is a different type of exposure for the children and the coaches believe it allows them to tune their skills and learn. Compton academy direct Don Buford also put the program, which has been going on for six years, into perspective and what it provides for the children:
I think this is a tremendous event to have. We have kids coming in from all over the world learning how to play Major League Baseball… What a great introduction for them in Japan, to come over here and see what we are doing in the states and, hopefully, next year we will be able to go over there as well.”
Shigetoshi Hasegawa, a former All-Star reliever, is a coach in the program for the United States team and believes that the program is doing a great job to fulfill its purpose:
The Japanese kids learn a new culture and the American kids see how Japanese baseball is played. Also, the academy is a great place to have these games. The fields here are always perfect. It’s a great place to play baseball.”
Nomo added he occasionally looks back at his career now that is has been 20 years since he arrived. He said he’s shocked at his journey, coming to the United States, and how successful he became. He hopes that this program can provide a backbone for the future Japanese stars to be able to come play for Major League Baseball.
Nomo finished his career with a 123-109 record and 4.24 ERA.
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