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Father of baseball star Ohtani coached son with life tips in 'very ordinary' upbringing

Shohei Ohtani is seen with his father Toru during a kindergarten sports day in this photo provided by Toru Ohtani.

Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters pitcher Shohei Ohtani has become the center of attention in the world of Japanese baseball with the announcement of his move to the Los Angeles Angels. Both a strong pitcher and batter, the 23-year-old has thrilled baseball fans in Japan, and has even been dubbed "Japan's Babe Ruth" in the United States. So how did his parents raise him?

"I wasn't particularly tough in his upbringing," Ohtani's 55-year-old father Toru says. "It was very ordinary, really just ordinary." In other words, there was no particular form to his upbringing. Rather, his parents just brought him up earnestly, with kindness.

Ohtani's father had played as an outfielder for a corporate-sponsored nonprofessional baseball team. His wife Kayoko, who is now 54, had played badminton for the badminton team of the same company. They have two other children, Ryuta, 29, and Yuka, 25.

Ohtani was born in the Iwate Prefecture city of Mizusawa (present-day Oshu), on July 5, 1994. The "Sho" from his given name comes from a soaring image of the military commander Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-1189), who is associated with the Oshu and Hiraizumi areas, while "hei" comes from a reading of the first kanji character used in the name "Hiraizumi."

Ohtani was lively from a young age. His older brother Ryuta wouldn't play on playground equipment when he was young because he was scared, but Ohtani, when he was around the same age, would boldly try it out.

"He would actively engage in whatever he was interested in. He was a child who would try anything," Ohtani's father says, though he adds this sometimes made him nervous. "If you didn't take care to watch him, it was dangerous," he recalls.

At the same time, Ohtani sometimes got caught up on small matters. His father remembers a time when Ohtani got angry when his notebook got a crease in it and protested that somebody had touched it. Toru remembers scolding him for this, telling him, "Don't get angry over little things."

Ohtani started playing baseball when he was in his second year of elementary school. He became interested in the sport after going to see a hardball baseball team play. When he got to junior high school he entered the "Ichinoseki Little Senior" baseball association, which was based in Ichinoseki, about a 45-minute drive away from his home. Asking for permission from the manager, Toru became a coach for the club.

Toru says he had some regrets about the upbringing of his first son. When Ryuta was a young child, Toru was working in a car assembly job with day and night shifts, and while handling his busy job and two other young children, he was not able to spend enough time with him. Ryuta now is a coach for a corporate baseball team and plays as an outfielder, but at high school his team was unable to move ahead in the prefectural qualifying round. Toru saw that his son was disappointed about this and remembers thinking, "If only I had worked together with him more... I've got to give to Shohei what I couldn't give to his older brother."

Toru's coaching was thorough. The advice he gave to his son as a pitcher was to adopt a clean form and place his fingers firmly on the seam of the ball when pitching. As for batting, his father taught him to strike with the meat of the bat, and helped him to hit left or right. He also taught his son not to take it out on his equipment even if he didn't perform as well as he had hoped. This was not only to teach his son the value of things, but because doing things which failed to take into consideration the other players lowered team morale and didn't lead anywhere.

On the way home after finishing practice, even if there was an outstanding issue, Toru made an effort not to lecture his son. Because he worked night shifts, he valued the times when the family was able to have dinner together. Most of the time, baseball was the topic of conversation. In 2010, when Ohtani entered Hanamaki Higashi High School in Iwate Prefecture, which had a strong team, his father earnestly desired for him to mature even more as a person.


Profile: Shohei Ohtani

July 5, 1994 -- Born in Mizusawa (present-day Oshu), Iwate Prefecture

2010 -- Entered Hanamaki Higashi High School

2011 -- Participated in the National High School Baseball Championship (summer Koshien tournament)

2012 -- Participated in the National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament (spring Koshien tournament)

2013 -- Joined the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters

2016 -- Contributed to the Nippon-Ham Fighters win of the Japan Series in 2016 with his "two swords" of pitching and batting. Made history by being named as the Pacific League's best pitcher and best designated hitter.

Nov. 11, 2017 -- Declares he will move to the major leagues.

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