East meets West


Courtesy of Kurt Schwengel

Nobu (center) with his teammates.

Dave Newlands, TSV /Graphic Designer

Trojans’ starting second baseman Nobu Suzuki tends to surprise people, especially his coaches.

As a freshman starter for the 2014 Trojans, Suzuki is part of Coach Dino Nomicos’ plan to develop a young roster, and his unusual path from Japan to Skyline College puts him in a unique position to influence this plan.

Suzuki was born in Connecticut, but spent the first 15 years of his life in Japan, where his parents encouraged him to take up baseball. As a teen he decided he needed to move back to the U.S. to improve his English, so he transferred to Santa Monica High School as a junior, where he landed on their playoff-bound baseball team with a quiet bang.

Even now, he refuses to admit that his English is good enough, but Santa Monica High head coach, Kurt Schwengel, disagrees.

“Nobu does not speak English,” Schwengel said. “He speaks baseball.”

Schwengel recalls Nobu’s first day on the team.

“Nobu just showed up at practice one day with a baseball mitt and said, ‘I want to play baseball’,” Schwengel said. “Five minutes later he was our starting second baseman.”

By the end of his first season at Santa Monica, Suzuki was named team MVP, an impressive feat for a junior. Needless to say, Schwengel was surprised once again.

If the Santa Monica squad was surprised by Suzuki, Nomicos was equally so when a former player, who just happened to be Suzuki’s brother-in-law, helped put Suzuki on the starting lineup of the 2014 Skyline Trojans. Not only were the Trojans taking a page out of the Major League playbook, landing a promising young Japanese talent to liven up the roster, but in a transition season for the freshman-heavy Skyline ball club, Suzuki might serve as a perfect liaison between the sophomore experience and the freshmen learning curve.

Nomicos knows his team has some growing up to do, and that’s going to be a good indicator of success this season.

“We brought in a really good freshman class, bunch of gamers, good kids, baseball guys,” Nomicos said. “They’re going to be a little behind because they haven’t gone through anything like this. The college game, the demands, playing and practicing as much as we do,it’s the adjustment period. It takes some getting used to.”

Suzuki has some experience with big adjustments, but beyond his adaptability, he has been trained for college-level work ethic since childhood. Speaking about the Japanese outlook on baseball, he sounds a lot like Nomicos.

“In Japan we practice a lot. Seven days a week after school,” Suzuki said. “When I came here, we had a day off every week, so that was totally different.”

Still, Schwengel came up in the UCLA baseball program before landing at Santa Monica, and he made sure Suzuki knew what was in store at the college level. Schwengel saw evidence early on that Suzuki was ready for a higher level of play.

“He knew the game as well as any of his coaches,” Schwengel said. “He was a hard working player and a great teammate.”

This combination of experiences is evident to Coach Nomicos as well.

“Japanese players are very fundamentally sound,” Nomicos said. “(Suzuki) is just easy to coach. He does what you tell him to do, and he’s very talented. He’s very disciplined.”

Nomicos always places emphasis on helping players move on to bigger and better things, so with Suzuki’s combination of talent, discipline, and experience and the coaches’ commitment to their players’ futures, this East-West connection will definitely be the story to watch over the next two Trojans’ seasons.

Like any ballplayer his age, Suzuki is looking at Division one schools for his junior year and, eventually, a couple of World Series rings with the New York Yankees. Those are certainly lofty goals, but if he achieves them, those who know Nobu Suzuki certainly won’t be surprised.