"A few kids have gone pro out of this program, but that's not what I'm looking forward to," he said via an interpreter. "I'm looking forward to this having an influence in their lives 10, 15 or 20 years after baseball. I'm trying to give back to the sport but also the memories that they build here to take on with them."
This is the seventh year of the program, and it's subtly grown to include a higher caliber of player.
The baseball exchange has worked both ways, and the Urban Youth Academy has sent teams across the Pacific to compete in Japan. Darrell Miller, Major League Baseball's vice president of youth and facility development, said it's been invaluable for local kids to compete against Japanese teams.
"The name Hideo Nomo speaks to Japanese baseball and to international baseball. One of the first international stars to break on the scene was Hideo Nomo," said Miller. "We're glad he's given back to the community in Japan, and more than that, we're really thankful he chooses the Urban Youth Academy to show his kids the kind of talent that's available in America. For us, it's a win-win. It helps our kids get into international competition at a young age ... and they understand there's a high standard out there."
Rodney Davis, the senior manager of the Urban Youth Academy in Compton, said that the local kids have loved interacting with their opponents, and that the academy has made great inroads toward an international reputation. Another youth team from Japan is scheduled to come play a tournament in December, and the NC Dinos, a Korean-league team, holds Spring Training at the academy.
The best part, said Davis, is that the local kids get to participate without breaking the bank.
"That's essentially what makes us unique," he said. "We're able to create some high-profile events without having to charge parents a substantial amount of money, or any amount of money, for their children to participate. Being supported by Major League Baseball, and having the right selection process, we're able to do some things that make it so you don't have to be a person of great means to participate."
Year after year, the Compton academy is churning out players who get drafted and go on to college, and playing in events like the Japan/USA Youth Baseball Series is one of the key formative experiences in spurring them to greater levels of competition. And it seems that's also the case for Japan.
"It's in the seventh year, and finally the program is at a point where the kids recognize that this is a program they want to be involved in," said Nomo. "Now, you look at it and all the kids want to strive to be prepared to be selected on this team. Their preparation has changed quite a bit."