It's a big day for Nomo, just another for parents

July 12, 1995|By Knight-Ridder News Service

OSAKA, Japan -- Kayoko and Shizuo Nomo went to work yesterday morning as always, she to the supermarket and he to the post office. Not long into their daily labors, their son was starting his biggest day's work at The Ballpark in Arlington, Texas.

Hometown hero Hideo "Tornado" Nomo was making history as the National League's starting pitcher in the 1995 All-Star Game, a first for a Japanese player.

But game time was 9 a.m., so the Nomos would have to rely on their VCR to see their son, the Los Angeles Dodgers' right-hander,in his moment of glory.

"We won't be able to watch because we both have to go to work," said 54-year-old Kayoko Nomo, a part-time supermarket cashier. "So, we'll watch the video when we get home."

In a society in which family triumphs or tragedies seldom are considered acceptable excuses for missing a day's work, the Nomos' situation falls into a broad category that Japanese label shikataganai "it can't be avoided."

As with mothers everywhere, though, Kayoko Nomo said she worries about her son's future, despite his doing well now.

"I have mixed feelings about him playing in America because, when times are good, like now, he'll enjoy his popularity," she said. "But it's the baseball world and when things turn bad for him, well, I worry about that."

Like all of Japan, the parents are delighted by Nomo's astounding accomplishments in the majors. But they, like their son, are reserved.

"When he made the All-Stars, he called us for the first time since he left for America and he spoke to my husband for about 10, maybe 15 minutes," said his mother.

"We had a lot of questions for him, mostly about how he felt and how he was eating, that sort of thing, but he said, 'If you want to know how I'm doing, you can find out in the papers or on TV.' "

But then, Nomo never was the chatty type. "As a little child, he was passive, kind of a crybaby," his mother said. "He started playing baseball with his dad when he was about 5 and he got serious about it in fifth grade. I think it made him patient.

"Since high school, he pretty much played from early morning to late at night. So, we talked about what had to be talked about but I don't recall ever having any long conversations. He was always a child of very few words."

According to a friend and colleague, Nomo gives new meaning to the tendency among Japanese men to keep their emotions bottled up.

"We worked together during his five years with the [Osaka] Buffaloes and I knew him quite well," said Toshio Hayashi, a former member of the team's management staff. "I spoke with him often and I guess I'd have to say he's one of the quietest guys I know.

His understated personality and dazzling talent make Nomo an ideal role model for Japanese youngsters, said Hayashi. Baseball has slipped in popularity ever since professional soccer took off a few years ago, and the club's 1,500 members are pushing "Nomo Fever" to get children back out on the diamond.

"Until now, Japanese players had to satisfy themselves with playing in Japan only," said Hayashi. "But Nomo's success shows that Japanese can make it in the outside world, especially in America, where the world's best baseball is played. This is a terrific attraction to kids."

Not only kids. To many adult fans, Nomo's that rarity in Japanese life, the loner, reminiscent of one of the country's favorite fictional characters, Musashi, an independent samurai warrior who roamed the land setting wrongs right.

In Nomo's case, he established his individuality after falling out with Buffaloes manager Keishi Suzuki early this year. After leading the Pacific League in wins and strikeouts four years running, he quit the team and hired a manager to find him a spot in the U.S. major leagues.

The Dodgers grabbed him at a fraction of his Japanese superstar salary of about $1.4 million. That really impressed fans here.

"In Japan, he was treated coldly, but in the highest of the high in the baseball world he's doing a fantastic job, and the gaijin [Americans] love him," computer technician Isao Ninomiya said enthusiastically.

"He bravely went off on his own, took a huge pay cut, and, incredibly, he's showing the gaijin that he's a better strikeout pitcher than any of their own. It makes me feel good just to watch him."

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