Montpellier’s Mystery Man From Japan

Two-way player Kenjiro Sugiura (Credit: Kanagawa Future Dreams)

News flash: The Montpellier Barracudas, third-place finishers in the D1 last season, will NOT be signing Shohei Ohtani this year.

Alas, the MLB superstar already has a job, and is set to make a cool US$5.5 million this year –slightly more than what even the flushest of French teams can accord.

But all joking aside, the Barracudas have decided to take their chances on a young man who, like Ohtani, hails from Japan, and can pitch AND hit – from both sides of the plate, no less.

Meet Kenjiro Sugiura, a two-way player from Japan’s Kanagawa Prefecture who actually gave up on baseball in high school, deciding instead to give badminton a try.

Despite having no experience when he started, Sugiura ended up being pretty good at the racket sport, eventually reaching the prefectural tournament in doubles competition, according to Le Baseblog‘s special Japan-based researcher (arigatōgozaimasu, *Zuiryo!).

The talented young althete still had a thing for baseball, however, and while attending Chuo University, in Tokyo Prefecture, played for intramural teams.

His skills were such that he was then selected to the national team for the Strong League World Baseball Challenge, which uses a hard rubber baseball instead of the traditional cowhide type.

That, in turn, got Sugiura thinking he might still have a shot a professional baseball, and in 2019, those hopes were realized when he was drafted by the Kanagawa Future Dreams in the BC League, a Japanese independent league, where he played two seasons (2020 and 2021), as both a pitcher and, starting last year, an outfielder.

The Japanese player now has his sights on a new challenge, France’s D1, and Le Baseblog, for one, can’t wait to see what kind of show he’ll put on.

Just a reminder: Opening Day is Sunday, April 10, which just so happens to be the newest Barracuda’s birthday. Sugiura turns 24, the same age, incidentally, as Ohtani during his rookie year with the Angels. Just sayin!

*Zuiryo Tanigichi was immensely helpful in putting this article together.

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