Fielding diversity: Owls senior transcends language barrier to lead team

While Satoshi Hirose didn’t speak English when he joined the Seymour baseball team as a freshman, his game spoke volumes.

The initial language barrier didn’t deter Hirose, who quickly gained a reputation for his work ethic and skill.

Now, in his senior year, “Sammy” is a leader on the team who will serve as the Owls’ No. 1 pitcher.

In 2013, Hirose’s family moved to Jackson County from Wakayama, Japan.

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Seymour High School baseball head coach Jeremy Richey met Hirose through fall workouts his freshman year.

“(Hirose) showed up the first day and we had another Japanese player who spoke a little bit of English that helped with the communication,” Richey recalled. “We watched (Hirose) play and realized he could really play. We come out to start the season and there he is, probably at 120 pounds, didn’t speak a bit of English and started at third base for us.”

In his sophomore and junior years, Hirose moved to second base and pitched while also propelling to the top of the Owls’ hitting rotation.

Hirose finished his junior year with 21 hits, including six doubles, with 12 RBI and a .313 average.

On the mound, Hirose tossed 37 innings with 35 strikeouts, nine walks, 38 hits and a 2.27 ERA.

In 2016, he made Hoosier Hills Conference honorable mention.

While Hirose’s athleticism stands out on the field, it’s his dedication off the field that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the program.

“(Hirose) has shown up every day,” Richey said. “He’s great for our program because he’s so skilled but also a hard worker. It shows the young kids. He’s the way he is for a reason. He works his butt off.”

At first, Hirose wasn’t sure how he would fit in at an American school.

“When I came here, I couldn’t speak any English, and I was kind of nervous about making friends,” Hirose said. “After I joined Seymour baseball, I made friends. At first, they were teammates. Now, they’re friends.

“People are friendly here. Even though I can’t speak much English, people still try to make relationships.”

Richey said Hirose became a part of the Seymour baseball family right away.

“When you can play, the older kids will gravitate toward you,” Richey said. “Now, he’s a guy that the younger kids gravitate toward as he’s gotten older. He has helped us tremendously, and I think we’ve helped him with confidence. He’s one of us.”

For Hirose, the biggest difference between American and Japanese baseball is the length of seasons.

“In Japan, we play whole seasons. We play the whole year,” Hirose said. “It’s kind of different here from Japan. In the United States, Americans play more for fun.”

Hirose said Japan has a hyper-intense attitude toward athletics, especially baseball.

After graduation, Hirose plans on returning to Japan. He hopes to play baseball while attending college.

“I might be able to get a scholarship,” Hirose said. “Living in the United States, I think they’re not looking at me because I’m outside of Japan. I’m going to get into college first and then join. It’s similar to the college system here.”

While difficult, Richey said he’s doing all he can to get exposure for Hirose overseas.

“It’s tough. We’ve tried to come up with ways to communicate with them (in Japan),” Richey said. “It’s difficult to get a hold of them over there because it’s a different world with athletics. We’re trying to get his family communicating, and we’re trying to communicate also.

“We have video and everything. We just need to make sure we’re getting it in the right hands. I think if he goes where he would like to be, they’re going to get a pretty good player that they’ll be excited about. When he gets there, he’s going to be good.”

This season, Hirose will pitch, play shortstop and hit No. 2 for the Owls. Hirose said he’s working more with pitching coach Elvis Hernandez in preparation for the schedule.

“(Hirose) is our guy on the mound,” Richey said. “If we play someone in a big game, he’s going to be our guy. He is just so skilled we can do a lot of things with him. He’s open to doing whatever it takes to win.”

Richey said Hirose is one of the most special talents that he has been able to coach, and he looks forward to seeing what he can do in his final season as an Owl.