COMPTON, Calif. -- The Japan-USA International Junior High School Baseball Federation Series has been a showcase event at which young players jointly learn about the culture of both countries since it began six years ago. The series, which takes place at the MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton and which welcomes ballplayers age 15 and under, is hosted by two trailblazing players who made a name for themselves on both continents.
"In Japan, Major League Baseball is such a big presence in the world of baseball," said Hideo Nomo, who broke the glass ceiling for Japanese League players in 1995 when he won the National League Rookie of the Year Award pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers. "Having our kids come over here and play with local kids their same age has been a great opportunity and experience for them."
Nomo and his staff are part of the Nomo Project, a team of some of the best 15-and-under Japanese players that the former All-Star brings to the United States to help better their baseball skills.
"The kids who first came out here six years ago are now graduating from college," said Nomo. "It has been interesting following their progress and I look forward to seeing how some may turn out in our professional league."
"I think this is a tremendous event to have," said Compton academy director Don Buford. "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."
"This series is so great for the kids here at the academy and the kids coming over from Japan," said former All-Star reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa, who starred in Japan. Hasegawa came to the Major Leagues in 1997 and is coaching the U.S. players. "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."
It's hard to believe that 2015 will mark the 20th anniversary of Nomo's move to Major League Baseball, opening the door for other great Japanese players, including Ichiro Suzuki and Yu Darvish.
"I can't believe it's been almost 20 years now and time has flown by so fast," said Nomo, who threw no-hitters with both the Dodgers and the Red Sox during his career. "Recently I have been looking back through the years and how my journey through Major League Baseball came to be and, hopefully the kids coming up have even a better experience playing in the U.S. than even I had, and mine was great."
"That's why we are old," said Hasegawa with his trademark smile. "Hideo and I are the same age and 20 years, wow. I remember watching Nomo pitching at Dodger Stadium on TV in Japan and saying 'I want to do that, too,' and it happened almost 20 years ago and we talk about it when we see each other. He started it for us and I followed. We did pretty good and we're happy for people like Darvish and [Masahiro] Tanaka who have followed."
It is also a positive that these two baseball pioneers are still giving back, preparing future generations of Japanese players to bring their talents to Major League Baseball.
Ben Platt is a national correspondent for MLB.com.