words // Nick Engvall
In 1995, a Japanese pitcher named Hideo Nomo became the first Japanese-born player to play in the Major Leagues in over 30 years. Although his success in the Big Leagues was relatively short-lived, his impact was far beyond what any rookie of this day and age has had. Nomo’s first year with the Los Angeles Dodgers, which came after about five years of pitching in Japan, was his best. His windup and delivery was something that seemed more appropriately placed in a video game than in the real world and had the capability to make even the greatest of opposing batters look like they were back in Little League.
On top of baffling batters, Nomo’s windup wowed the fans even more so. For me, personally, Nomo’s Major League debut is something I will never forget. In May of 1995, he took to the mound against the San Francisco Giants. His delivery, in its tornado-like spiraling motion, was like a music conductor that day. For each and every pitch, the thousands of fans who had traveled just to see Hideo Nomo would ooh and aah. Each pitch began with a crescendo of “ooh” in anticipation as Hideo spun almost completely backwards in his windup, and then simultaneously the crowd let out an “aah” of relief as he spun forward and threw to home plate. Even while cheering against his team, it was hard for me not to get into the whole spectacle, and I found myself “oohing and aahing” right along with the rest of the audience. Especially with all the Japanese media in attendance, broadcasting the game back to Japan live, even with its 4:35 AM Tokyo start time, it was an unforgettable game. Nomo finished with seven strikeouts and allowed only one hit in the five innings he pitched.
After becoming the starting pitcher for the National League All Star team and winning the NL Rookie of the Year award in 1995, Nomo quickly grabbed an endorsement deal with Nike. His popularity in the United States seemed to only be surpassed by his popularity in Japan, and his Nike Baseball Commercials only fueled the fire for the Nike Air Max Nomo that was originally released in 1996. Nomo’s second season, which included the first of two no-hitters in his career, did the same.
The Air Max Nomo signature line was short lived, but over the years has become one of the most recognizable sneakers from Nike Training. This was in part due to the midsole tooling, which most will quickly relate to the Nike Air Griffey Max 1, but also because it never made a return as a Retro, thus adding to its allure.
Check out the images in this week’s Eastbay Memory Lane from the early 1997 Eastbay catalog.
By Drew Hammell
The month of April is always a special time of year for baseball players young and old. The days are getting longer, the temperatures are getting warmer, and the smell of freshly cut grass is in the air. There’s nothing like the sound of a baseball popping crisply into a soft mitt or cracking sharply off a new bat. Every player has hope and excitement for what the upcoming season will bring. Every team has the opportunity to gel together for a championship run. Every kid has a hero (or two) that they want to emulate. Back in 1998, aspiring players wanted to throw heat like Hideo Nomo, fly around the base paths like Kenny Lofton, and crush the ball like Ken Griffey Jr. Of course, they wanted their shoes, too.
Here’s a look back at three Nike athletes featured in the April 1998 Eastbay catalog, and the footwear those stars were wearing.
Hideo Nomo – Nike Air Nomo Max II
With his tornado-style windup that both confounded batters and wowed fans, Japanese pitcher Hideo Nomo took the league by storm in 1995. Nomo’s baseball cards skyrocketed in value during his first major league season with the LA Dodgers. Japanese fans came out in droves and often flew over from Nomo’s homeland to see him pitch in the USA. As a rookie, Nomo led the league in strikeouts and was second in the league with a 2.54 ERA. He even started in the All-Star Game and struck out 3 of the 6 batters he faced. He would continue his success the next two seasons, but would not fare as well in ’98. Overall, Nomo had a stellar 12-year major league career, leading the league in strikeouts twice and tossing three no-hitters.
Though Nomo had a rough ’98 season, his shoes were still noteworthy. On the field, Nomo wore the Nike Air Nomo Metal. The model featured an abrasion-resistant synthetic leather upper, and a two-color Phylon midsole wedge. The Air Nomo cleat had low-profile forefoot and heel Zoom Air cushioning units – Nike’s latest cushioning advancement that kept the athlete’s foot low to the ground for extra speed and comfort.
The coinciding Air Nomo Max II was touted as Nike’s best-cushioned trainer. The Nomo Max had a synthetic leather and mesh three-quarter height upper, but ditched the Zoom Air in exchange for a dual-pressure, Max-Volume heel Air-Sole unit and a large-volume forefoot Air-Sole unit.
Kenny Lofton – Nike Air K-Lo
Back in the ‘90s, Kenny Lofton was heralded as one of the speediest players in the league. Lofton was a two-sport athlete in college, excelling in both baseball and basketball with the Arizona Wildcats. He’d stick with baseball after that and would go on to play 17 years in the Big Leagues. He was a 6-time All Star, a 4-time Gold Glove winner, and a 5-time stolen base leader (including 75 in 1996 with the Cleveland Indians).
His footwear in 1998 wasn’t too shabby, either. On the field, Lofton rocked the Air Zoom K-Lo. This metal cleat was built on a track and field last, with an ultra-lightweight, synthetic leather-and-mesh upper specifically designed for players like Lofton who craved speed. The model had a full-length internal polyurethane innersole cover. The K-Lo also had a low-profile forefoot Zoom Air cushioning unit (no Zoom Air in the heel, though). The finishing touch was a jewel Swoosh on the side, which has become popular again in 2018.
Sneaker-wise, Nike designed the Air K-Lo for Lofton: a minimalistic cross trainer with a track spike for artificial turf. The model featured a lightweight leather-and-mesh upper and a full-length Phylon midsole. The K-Lo had a forefoot Zoom Air unit and an aggressive sprint/speed outsole. With a price point of only $74.99 and a weight of only 10.5 ounces, it was one of the lightest and best-valued trainers available.
Ken Griffey – Nike Air Griffey Max III
One of the greatest baseball players of all time was at the peak of his powers entering the 1998 season with the Seattle Mariners. In 1998 alone, the Swingman would hit 56 homeruns and knock in 146 RBI. In his storied 22-year career, he was a 13-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove Award winner. In 2016, The Kid was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame receiving 99.32 percent of the vote.
On the field in ‘98, Junior sported the Air Griffey Metal. This top-of-the-line cleat featured a deer-tan and full-grain leather upper, and a cubic-dipped Pebax plate which provided excellent flexibility and added cushioning. There were also low-profile forefoot and heel Zoom-Air units for superior cushioning.
The Air Griffey Max 3 trainer model also had a supple deer-tan leather upper with an asymmetric lacing system and medial to lateral upper strap. Like the Nomo Max, the Griffey Max swapped out the Zoom Air for forefoot and heel Max Air cushioning units. The Griffey Max 3 was available in both black/silver/white and grey/black/red in the April catalog.
These three baseball trainers and their respective cleat versions formed an impressive body of work for Nike in 1998. There were plenty of other training models available as well, but Nomo, Lofton, and Griffey Jr. were the primary spokesmen that year. All three players will be remembered for their very different talents on the field, but they definitely had one thing in common: fire footwear.
words // Brandon Richard
The Nike Kobe 8 System ‘Pit Viper’ is described as the first Kobe 8 to evolve snake aesthetic from inspiration to photo-realism. With its visceral scale pattern, the venomous viper was chosen for this pair.
Purple and Green Glow were selected to represent the pit viper’s nocturnal nature. Its dominant predator instincts align with the dynamic fit and traction of the Kobe 8.
These new Kobe Bryant shoes will release here this Saturday, October 5. Enjoy a detailed preview below.
words // Zack Schlemmer
The 2013 MLB season is officially here, as baseball fans across the nation hit the parks to watch their favorite teams back in action. To celebrate the start of the baseball season, Eastbay Memory Lane goes back to 1997 to check out some classic Nike Baseball turf trainers.
Headlining this page is the Air Nomo Max, star pitcher Hideo Nomo’s signature shoe. Of course he had a cleated on-field version, but here we see the Air Max cushioned trainer version. This shoe is one of Nike’s most memorable baseball training models with its bold and aggressive “tooth” design and jeweled Swoosh.
The great turf trainers from this page continue with Kenny Lofton’s Zoom Diamond, the Air Diamond Thief, Air Diamond Elite and Air Zoom Fly. Which is your favorite Nike diamond trainer from 1997?
words // Brandon Richard
In a theoretical world, had Japanese flamethrower Hideo Nomo swapped his 90-mph fastball for an extra 20 inches tacked onto his vertical, perhaps this new colorway of his Nike Air Max NM sig would have been a good fit for this past spring’s Nike Basketball “Easter Pack.” This shoe features a New Green mesh base with metallic silver leather overlays and black Swoosh branding on the side panels. The Air Max equipped midsole is done in white, with green working ‘eyelids’ over the windows, while a black rubber outsole provides the finishing touch below.
These Nike casual sneakers are available now at Eastbay.