Meet the 12-year-old ambidextrous star with dreams of beating Ohtani

June 14th, 2023

He's hit more than 100 home runs -- knocking out dingers with such regularity that his teammates don't even cheer for him anymore. He can hurl fastballs past hitters with both his right arm and his left.

Oh -- and he's still in the sixth grade.

That's right: Meet Yuto Hara, the ambidextrous star slugger and pitcher who is hoping to one day top even 's otherworldly abilities on the ball field.

Shockingly enough, Yuto was never even supposed to play baseball. His parents wanted him to learn soccer, but the beautiful game never stuck with the youngster. Instead, just like us obsessed baseball fans whose lives are dictated by Ohtani's playing schedule, so, too, was Yuto's life changed by watching the two-way superstar.

"The reason I began playing baseball was the first baseball game that I happened to see was a Shohei Ohtani game," Yuto said through MLB's Sho Kurematsu, who was translating our conversation. "I saw him get a hit during that game, and I said I wanted to become like Shohei Ohtani and that's how I started playing baseball."

That hit was actually a laser beam of a home run for the Nippon-Ham Fighters, and was more than enough to turn the then-4-year-old Yuto into a baseball obsessive.

"It was right before elementary school when he began to say, 'I really want to be like Shohei Ohtani. I want to be greater than Shohei Ohtani,'" Yuto's father, Keiji, said.

The numbers are more than impressive for the player who is one part Ohtani, one part Pat Venditte all wrapped up in one adolescent frame. He's eclipsed the century mark in home runs, can run 50 meters in a dazzling 7.3 seconds (just about two seconds slower than the fully grown Elly De La Cruz), and can even do a walking handstand for 10 meters. Oh yeah, and his fastball is up to 76.4 mph from his right and -- though he's yet to use it in a game, claiming his control isn't good enough -- 71.4 mph from his left. The performances have already earned him attention in Japan, with Asahi calling him a "3-way" star, and Tokusan TV filming a segment with the youngster

It was pure luck that Yuto even realized he had this skill. Raised as a natural right-hander, the pieces all came together in the first grade when his school tested its students. The task was simple: Take a softball and throw it as far as possible.

"I did this with my right arm first, and I threw it too far," Yuto said. "So, my teacher told me to try with my left hand just to see what I can do. When I tried with my left hand, that also went too far. At that point, I realized maybe I can throw with my left arm as well."

Yuto's not doing it alone, though. His father is with him every step of the way.

"As a father, I said I want to help him do it," Keiji said. "I want to make sure he can realize the dream."

The two practice together at 6:30 in the morning, and as soon as Yuto returns from elementary school, they're right back at it. Right now, the two are focused on core and rubber-band resistance training, while also practicing with a smaller ball and bat to rap out 200 hits a day. When it comes to working on his pitching, Yuto will use the right hand one day and then switch to the left the next.

"Of course, I have my own job," Keiji said. "So I have to find openings in my work day to make that happen. But again, I just want to do everything I can to support him."

While he's overwhelmed by the talent and success that Yuto has had on the field, Keiji keeps on the lookout for one very important thing:

"As much as I really enjoy the level of success that he's had, my main focus is that he's enjoying what he's doing and he's having fun playing baseball," Keiji said.

As for now, Yuto is definitely enjoying baseball. His team won the Tokyo tournament last year -- Yuto pitched a shutout in the finals and homered five times in five games -- and his team also won the larger regional tournament in Kanto. After a slow April, Yuto has warmed up and is now averaging about a home run per game. The exceptional has become his routine.

"I'm at a point now where it's almost normal for me to hit a home run," Yuto said with a wide grin. "Whenever I hit a home run and run the bases, there's no longer a reaction of excitement. Everyone's used to it, so they just kind of see me off and don't get too excited anymore."

Yuto dreams of one day hitting against Ohtani and Chiba Lotte Marines fireballer Roki Sasaki, and pitching against sluggers Munetaka Murakami, Mike Trout and Aaron Judge. But his biggest wish -- and the reason he wants to be ambidextrous -- is he wants to star in the Summer Koshien, Japan's high school baseball tournament and perhaps the most important sporting event in the country. It's where legends are made, the stories passed down for decades, like Daisuke Matsuzaka's 17-inning, 250-pitch performance in the semifinals in 1998 or "the Handkerchief Prince," Yuki Saito, who pitched six complete games -- including returning the next day after pitching a 15-inning complete game in 2006.

Yuto is hoping to follow in current Yakult Swallows pitcher Yasunobu Okugawa's shoes. Okugawa was a Koshien runner-up in 2019, pitching in all five games in the tournament, but is just now working his way back to the Swallows roster after being injured and pitching just four innings last season. Yuto's hoping he can avoid injury and keep each arm fresh by swapping between them.

"The reason I have this dream and this objective is because I watched [Okugawa], who pitches for the Yakult Swallows," Yuto said. "He also pitched in consecutive games in the Koshien, finishing in second place. However, after moving on to professional baseball, he experienced some injuries. After seeing this, I felt I needed to be able to maintain my elbow and shoulder. This is the reason I want to try using both arms."

While Yuto has a few years to wait before he'll get the chance to play hero in the Koshien, given the choice between closing out a game or hitting the game-winning home run, he's still opting to go with the bat.

"During the Tokyo tournament, we did have a scenario where we entered the ninth inning and I hit a home run," Yuto said. "With that experience, I think that a sayonara home run is a lot more enjoyable for me."