Shohei Ohtani's early life and childhood

shohei elementary school baseball shohei junior high school baseball

Shohei has been obsessed with baseball since he was a small child!

Shohei Ohtani(大谷 翔平 in kanji) was born on July 5, 1994 in Mizusawa City, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, the second son of father Toru and mother Kayoko. Toru was an amateur baseball player and Kayoko was a national-level badminton player. He has an older brother and an older sister.

Toru initially wanted to name his son "Yoshitsune" instead of Shohei. This was because Yoshitsune Minamoto was a samurai with deep connections to Oshu. However, he decided not to name his son Yoshitsune because it would be too awe-inspiring to get the name of a great man who has left his mark on history. Instead, he named his son "Shohei" because of the image of Yoshitsune flying in the sky, known for his leap from eight ships, and the name of Hiraizumi. "翔" is an image of flying, "平" comes from Hiraizumi(平泉).

According to his mother, Kayoko, Shohei was familiar with two sports before he discovered baseball. One of them was badminton, which his mother continued as a hobby. When Shohei was 2 years old, he was taken to practice by his mother's badminton team. Shohei started swinging the racket just as he saw fit. Kayoko told us about those days in Bungeishunju (November 2014 issue). "According to my husband, the way to swing a badminton or tennis racket and the way to throw a pitcher's ball are similar. Perhaps that was a good thing later on."

Another sport is swimming. When Shohei was older in kindergarten, he also attended swimming school. His childhood friend Daiki Sasaki says, "When I was in the sixth grade, Shohei, who was in the fourth grade, swam in the same course as me," and felt his athletic ability up close.

photo of shohei as a baby and his swimming award

Shohei says, "I liked both badminton and swimming, so I think I could have gone any way I wanted. But baseball was the first thing I thought looked cool, and I had the most confidence in it. My mother let me do what I wanted to do as I wanted to do it" (from "Shohei Otani: Challenge" (Iwate Nippo Co.)). Badminton is a sport of hitting feathers at the right time, and swimming is good for building strength and softening joints. Neither is unrelated to baseball, and the two sports may have helped develop basic baseball skills.

Shohei went to visit a local Little League team (Mizusawa Little) in the fall of his second year and joined the team in his third year. His father was an amateur baseball player, and his older brother also played baseball, so it was natural for him to be interested in baseball. Shohei also says, "I wasn't told to play baseball. I did it naturally." There is a questionnaire that Shohei filled out when he came to play at a local children's center around that time. His favorite sport was, of course, "Yakyu (やきゅう, baseball)". In his dream, he also wrote, "Yakyu no Senshu (やきゅうのせんしゅ, baseball player)."

shohei's questionnaire in elementary school

His father Toru, who also served as the team's manager, looks back on those days. "When Shohei's older brother was playing, I was too busy with work to teach him how to play baseball. I couldn't even play catch with him. Because of that, I was determined to teach Shohei baseball as hard as I could." At the time, Toru was working for an auto body manufacturer and often worked the night shift. Even so, on weekends, he and Shohei would go to the baseball field together. Even on weekdays, when he did not have to work at night, he spent his time playing baseball with Shohei.

Toru was the manager of his elementary school team and the coach of his junior high school team (Ichinoseki Little Senior). Shohei spoke of those days when he was both father and coach to him. "My father thought that if there was a kid who was as good as me, he would send him to the games, not me. So, for me to play in the games, I had to have overwhelming ability. I had to be good enough to convince everyone on the team. I was still small, but I understood that. I thought I should practice more than anyone else." For this reason, Shohei practiced more than his teammates.

shohei plays baseball in the elementary school

Toru and Shohei also kept a "baseball notebook" until about the fifth grade of elementary school. Toru wrote down his evaluations and advice for the day, and Shohei wrote down his reflections on the game and future tasks. Toru talked about his baseball notebook. "I thought the important thing was that when he had a bad day, he would think about what he could do next to overcome the issue and put it into action. In other words, it was to raise awareness in practice. That was the primary purpose of the baseball notebook."

In terms of technique, Toru made Shohei aware of the importance of throwing a ball with vertical spin. He also taught him to pitch with a nice pitching form, referring to a series of photos of professional baseball players. In hitting, he taught Shohei to hit the ball toward the right side if it was inward and toward left if it was outward. He also made Shohei aware of the need to maintain a high batting average and to hit a double that would score a run.

On the other hand, Toru basically did not bring baseball into his home. After returning home from practice, he and Shohei would only briefly review the day's practice, and they always talked about nothing else. Toru explains his intention. "We never practiced intensely one-on-one at home. We practiced hard on the field, and then Shohei practiced on his own. Baseball should be fun. It is not good to overdo it and get sick of it. Also, since he was still in the growth stage of his body, my fervent coaching at home would lead to injury. So I consciously did not teach him at home."

shohei in elementary school

His mother also said, "When the switch is turned on, he concentrates and does it all at once, but when the switch is off, he is really off. In elementary and junior high school baseball, he would concentrate on practice, but during breaks, he would play more happily than anyone else. He would splash water with his teammates if they had a hose, or play golf with a ball and bat."

Besides his parents, the other person who knew Shohei as a child was Shoji Asari. He was Shohei's coach at Mizusawa Little, where Shohei played from the second grade to the first grade of junior high school. Asari was convinced that Shohei would become a professional baseball player when he entered a little league homerun competition. While the other teams' first-year junior high school hitters hit only one or two, Shohei hit 11 over the fence and won the championship. He said that every time he hit a home run, the sighs of the other teams turned into exclamations of admiration.

shohei in junior school

In a game against the second place team in the world tournament, Shohei hit two home runs: the first to right, which went into the street outside the stadium, and the second to left, which hit a traffic light at an intersection outside the stadium. Shohei's skillful hitting, which he splits between right and left, was already showing itself. He also pitched an impressive game in the final of the Tohoku Tournament, which was held in a six-inning format, striking out 17 of the 18 outs. These are episodes that undeniably prove his ability. The baseball players Shohei admired in his youth were Hideki Matsui as a hitter and Yu Darvish as a pitcher.