LOS ANGELES -- Hideo Nomo, who blazed the trail for fellow Japanese ballplayers when he came to the Dodgers in 1995, was honored Saturday with a bobblehead and pregame ceremony at Dodger Stadium.
Nomo, now 44, was 26 when he fought the Japanese reserve system and was signed by Peter O'Malley and the Dodgers, winning the Rookie of the Year Award and leading the league in strikeouts. He spent 6 1/2 of his 12 Major League seasons with the Dodgers in a pair of stints.
Nomo is credited not only with starting an influx of players from Japan, but elevating baseball's awareness of players throughout the Pacific Rim, leading to expanded scouting of Australia, Taiwan and South Korea, where current Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu -Ryu starred.
"I believe Japanese players are able to play in the Major Leagues because Mr. Nomo opened the door for us," former Dodger and current Yankee Hiroki Kuroda said in a video tribute. "Thank you for making it possible for all of us."
Nomo typically downplayed his impact on connecting Japanese players and fans with Major League Baseball, often drawing comparisons to the way Fernando Valenzuela made MLB accessible to Mexican fans.
"I'm not really sure I had impact," he said. "Watching Major League Baseball in Japan on TV and seeing All-Star teams touring, at the time there was no way you thought you could perform at this level. TV and the tours had the impact."
Nomo said when he played he didn't do it with the intent of breaking down barriers.
"I was thinking about performing, not about the players to follow," he said. "It started with Peter O'Malley, Tom Lasorda and the staff that supported me and made it easy for me to concentrate on baseball."
Nomo said he spends his retirement mostly with the family and working with an amateur baseball team in Japan.
The pregame ceremony included his first pitch to former teammate and current FOX broadcaster Eric Karros, complete with Nomo's trademark twirling "Tornado" windup.
"Normally on the field I'm not nervous," Nomo said during a news conference. "Today, I'm a little bit nervous and excited."