Fujiwara’s baseball journey brings him to Lima

Baseball has taken Lou Fujiwara to almost every corner of the country.

At one point, it even brought him back to the United States from his home in Tokyo, Japan.

Now, after stops in the past that included places like Arizona, Washington, and even Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for the Little League World Series, Fujiwara has followed the game he loves to Lima.

Heading into Tuesday night’s game against Xenia, the 5-foot-10 middle infielder from the University of Washington has already made a positive impact on his new team. Through his first three games, he recorded six hits in 15 at-bats and made some impressive defensive plays as the Locos’ starting shortstop, catching the eye of fans at Simmons Field and praise from his coaching staff.

“Lou has been amazing both defensively and offensively,” said Locos coach Chad Ehrnsberger after a 12-1 win over South Ohio on Sunday. “That’s exactly what I expected from him after talking to his coaches. He is a good one to have out there.”

Ehrnsberger’s connection with a former minor league teammate, Billy Boyer, played a big part in bringing Fujiwara from Seattle to Lima for the summer. Boyer was Fujiwara’s former infield coach during his first year at the University of Washington, and he’s now the current MiLB field coordinator and infield coordinator for the Detroit Tigers.

Fujiwara’s first day with the team was at the Locos’ youth camp. He said he fit in quickly because the guys around him made it easy, especially his partner up the middle, Justin Gorski, a second baseman from Miami University.

After nearly a week in town, he also said that his first impressions of Lima have been nothing but positive.

“I love the people here. I love the city so far because of the people and the culture,” Fujiwara said. “When I’m walking around town with a Locos hat on, everyone is so nice and wants to talk to me, so everything’s been great so far.”

After playing just three games during the spring season at the University of Washington, Fujiwara set a goal to play as many games as possible during the summer.

Those expectations lined up with Lima’s coaching staff. Instead of returning to Tokyo, he joined the team last Friday night.

Fujiwara said he intends to return to the University of Washington next year to continue his baseball career after looking back at his redshirt freshman season as a positive learning experience.

“I had a lot of good guys playing in front of me, especially up the middle,” he said. “My teammates taught me a lot of things this past year. Even though I didn’t play a lot, it was definitely a positive season.”

His first three starts for the Locos have been at shortstop, a position he hasn’t played regularly for two years. But for a kid who idolized Derek Jeter growing up and currently wears the No. 2 jersey, it only seems right.

“It’s been a transition because our field plays slower than a normal turf field,” Fujiwara said. “That means I have to stay down on the ball more than I normally would, while also trusting my legs and my hands.”

During a Father’s Day win over the South Ohio Copperheads, Fujiwara even drew some oohs and ahhs from the crowd after making a difficult flip to Gorski for an out at second as his momentum took him away from the base.

“I’m excited when I see those difficult plays develop,” he said. “I don’t really think anything at that point. It all just turns into a reaction and I like those opportunities.”

Making difficult plays look easy is a result of endless hours of practice back home in Japan, where Fujiwara spent more time on the field every day practicing for Little League than most people spend at their daily jobs.

“It was 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. Sunrise to sundown,” he said. “Japan is always good in Little League because of how much they practice. That has to be the biggest difference between playing baseball over there compared to here.”

Those long hours of dedication to the game led his team to the Little League World Series in 2017, where Japan beat Australia, South Korea, Canada and Mexico to win the International championship before defeating Texas 12-2 in five innings for the Little League World Championship.

It was an experience that Fujiawara called “insane.”

“It felt like I was a major league baseball player when I was 13,” Fujiwara recalled. “I lived in Arizona when I was 2 years old, and that’s where I started baseball. I went back to Japan when I was 5 or 6, and my goal was always to play baseball in America again, and I saw the Little League World Series as my opportunity.”

To get that process going, Fujiwara joined the best team in his area. He said that the group of 14 players spent about five years together and used all hours of daylight available to practice from second to seventh grade before they got their shot at a trip to Williamsport.

Once his team reached the tournament, its preparation made winning seem like the only possible outcome.

“When you practice like that, the expectation is to win,” he said. “We had that mentality all the way up to the championship game, and I think we performed how we were supposed to. It was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had.”

Fujiwara also helped his team at JSerra Catholic High School in California win the 2022 CIF Championship under coach Brett Kay, a former minor-leaguer in the New York Mets organization.

That season he earned second-team honors in Orange County.

Reach Chris Howell at 567-242-0468 or on Twitter/X at @Lima_Howell