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Japanese baseball legend Nomura remembered by American star's grandson

Joe Stanka, an American former teammate of Japanese baseball legend Katsuya Nomura is pictured in February 1962. (Kyodo)
This file photo taken in April 1970, shows Katsuya Nomura of the Nankai Hawks hitting his 450th career home run at Tokyo's Korakuen Stadium. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Two days after the sudden death of Katsuya Nomura at the age of 84, the grandson of an American teammate reached out to express his family's feelings about the legendary Japanese catcher and manager on Thursday.

Josh Stanka's grandfather, Joe, won 100 games in Japanese pro ball, most of them while throwing to his Nankai Hawks batterymate Nomura. The Hawks' Hall of Fame catcher hit 657 home runs, second on Japan's all-time list, won five league pennants as a manager, and three Japan Series titles.

Joe Stanka died in October 2018 at the age of 87. His grandson expressed his family's admiration for Nomura and recalled some of the stories his grandfather told of him.

"To those fortunate enough to be his teammates, his players, his friends, and most importantly his family; attempting to use mere numbers to describe Nomura-san would be like trying to describe Mount Fuji simply by its height and dimensions," he wrote.

"In many ways (Nomura's) story is a microcosm of the attributes of the Japanese people themselves in the post-war years, who exhibited the same irrepressible drive to succeed and rebuild a whole new society that became the economic marvel of the 20th Century."

Stanka joined the Hawks in 1960. In six seasons with the Osaka-based club, he pitched in three Japan Series. He was the Pacific League's MVP in 1964 when he won a career-high 26 games. When the Hawks beat their historic local rivals, the Hanshin Tigers in the Japan Series that October, Stanka was the series MVP.

"He and my grandfather played games of pitch and catch in legendary stadiums just as they had played games of pitch and catch with their schoolmates when they were boys growing up 7,000 miles apart in Mineyama, Japan, and Hammon, Oklahoma."

"With apologies to Hanshin Tigers fans, they played a couple of truly memorable games of catch in Koshien Stadium in 1964 the likes of which may never be equaled."

Nomura, who won five PL MVP awards in his career, could be harsh and unyielding in his criticism of those who took his game lightly and rarely dished out compliments.

"Nomura-san once said of my grandfather that he was an American with the soul of a Japanese. My grandfather once said of Nomura-san that he never met anybody who was so determined to win," Stanka wrote.

"When my grandfather would take the mound to throw to Katsuya Nomura, they ceased to be American or Japanese. They became partners, willing to do whatever it took to achieve victory. Together."

"So as the Stanka family, with heavy hearts, mourn the loss of our dear friend Katsuya Nomura, we offer our condolences to the entire nation of Japan but most especially the Nomura family, with whom we will always share a deep and meaningful bond."

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