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Major League Star Nomo Founds Amateur Team (July 28, 2003)

Nomo Hideo
Dodgers pitcher Hideo Nomo (Jiji)
Major League pitcher Nomo Hideo, 34, who currently plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers, has founded an amateur baseball team in Japan called Nomo Baseball Club. With the amount of support provided by companies to thier corporate teams dwindling, amateur and semipro players face an increasingly tough situation. Hoping to give these players some encouragement, Nomo supplied the funds for the new team himself in what could be described as a gesture of putting something back into the world of baseball. This is yet another new challenge for the pioneer who led the recent migration of Japanese players to the Major Leagues.

New Team Based in Nomo's Hometown
The Nomo Baseball Club is based in Nomo's hometown of Sakai City in Osaka Prefecture, where, after graduating from high school, Nomo himself spent three years playing for a corporate team, Nippon Steel Corporation Sakai Works. The world of corporate and amateur baseball has seen a dramatic fall in the number of teams in recent years, as some companies have disbanded their teams as part of their restructuring efforts. While there were once 237 teams, by 2002 this number had fallen to 85. Even Nomo's former team, Nippon Steel Sakai, was forced to suspend activities in 1994. Seeing how young players were losing opportunities to enjoy and improve their baseball, Nomo established a team to give some of them back these chances.

The man appointed to be manager of Nomo's team is Nobuhide Shimizu, 45, who also used to play for Nippon Steel Sakai. In December 2002 Nomo approached Shimizu, saying, "There are lots of players who could play amateur baseball. I want to provide them with an environment in which they can take that opportunity." Shimizu accepted Nomo's request that he take the manager's job without hesitation. Shimizu says of Nomo: "He has always been a player who thinks about the whole baseball fraternity. I guess he remembers how he got his start in baseball." Shimizu also reports that Nomo, who pays the team's ¥10 million ($83,000 at ¥120 to the dollar) annual running costs out of his own pocket, telephones in between Major League games to ask how the team is doing.

Players from a Variety of Backgrounds
About 50 people, ranging from former pros to veterans of high-school baseball, took part in the tryouts held in April to select players for the team. The team chose 12 players, including trainees, and began practicing soon after. As it is a truly amateur team, the players receive no salaries. They earn their livings working in places like factories and gas stations by day and attend practices in the evenings. The team aims to start competing in official games from spring 2004, but the dream held by every player is to use the opportunity as a springboard to a professional career - just like Nomo did.

Keen to help ensure that Nomo's new venture is a success, Sakai City is offering support by, for example, mediating between the team and the players' workplaces. Some companies have also stepped forward to sponsor the team. With the backing of the surrounding community, it will be fascinating to see if Nomo Baseball Club produces any future stars of the caliber of its illustrious founder.

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Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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