Saya Fujii, 12, isn’t just any girl playing baseball. She is a Briarwood All Star and a Living Legend. Not only is she a remarkable baseball player, but she’s also amazingly humble, not wanting to take the spotlight away from her teammates. That spotlight had a mind of its own this season and it can’t be dimmed considering how bright Fujii shone for the Briarwood Pirates.
Fujii literally led the Pirates this season as she was their main leadoff hitter. She also pitched, caught behind the plate and played in the infield. She said that she also plays in the outfield when called upon for her 13U travel ball team with the Living Legends. Very rarely do any players in Little League hit from both sides of the plate, but Fujii was a switch hitter this season. She was the only Pirates player to be given the green light to hit from both sides.
“A lot of the kids would flirt with switch hitting in practice, but you could see she always took it a little more serious,” remarked Jermaine Mitchell, Fujii’s head coach for both the Pirates and her Living Legends team. “So I knew she was comfortable doing it.”
During the Little League season, Fujii helped lead the Pirates all the way to the final game of the Tournament of Champions. The Pirates would fall to the Mountain View team in the Championship game, but it was Fujii’s right-handed double off a rare lefty in the semi-final victory that helped put them in the championship. For most of her at bats Fujii hit left-handed against right-handed pitchers. However, on the rare occasions when they faced lefties, she would bat from the right side.
“I started practicing switch hitting a few years ago and I told my dad I think I could do it, but this is the first year I’ve done it in games,” noted Fujii. “I do mostly work off the tee at practice to work on the switch hitting. But if I’m in a slump from the right side I definitely need live pitching and it’s hard sometimes because we don’t see many lefties.”
When originally approached about being featured independently, Fujii hesitated, not wanting to steal the spotlight or receive extra attention just because she happens to be a girl. But after agreeing to speak, she also acknowledged in her interview that she wanted to be an example for even younger girls to follow.
“There is really no reason to switch to softball just because of your gender,” remarked Fujii. “But usually I don’t even think about it that much, [that I’m a girl playing with boys].”
“When Saya shows up the ballpark she’s just like any other ballplayer,” said coach Mitchell. “All the kids talk about the same things with her as with anybody else. She fits right in with everyone, there’s no difference, the other players don’t see the gender difference. She’s just Saya and if she wasn’t there, everyone is going to be asking ‘where is she? Is she coming?’ because she has been a key piece to each team that she has been a part of.”
When Mitchell first heard Fujii say she wasn’t sure about being highlighted, that made him even more impressed by her maturity, thinking about her teammates first.
“When she told me she didn’t think she wanted to do it, that made me like her even more as a player.” chuckled Mitchell. “That is a very mature thought for a 12-year-old. That’s something where most adults would jump at that opportunity, but she likes to think things through.”
Thinking things through in general is also a key to her ability on the diamond. Thinking about the game at a high level is what Tyson Mitchell, one of Fujii’s teammates, noted about her.
“She’s a really good ballplayer. There’s not a lot of girls out here, but she’s one of the ones that can be better than most of the boys that play baseball,” chimed Tyson Mitchell. “Her awareness and listening is top notch. If the coach asks her to do this or that, she’ll do it and do it well.”
Another teammate of Fujii’s, Jacob Horne, said he’s most impressed by her fielding ability.
“She’s really good at fielding, that’s what I’ve noticed,” said Horne. “She’s really good at hitting too, but the thing that stands out the most is her fielding.”
In baseball circles, the term “five-tool player” often gets thrown around for players who can hit for average, power, speed on the bases, a good glove and strong arm in the field. Fujii pretty much checks off all those boxes for her age group.
“She’s doing everything — she’s catching, she’s pitching, she’s switch hitting, she plays middle infield, she plays outfield — there isn’t anything stopping her from doing whatever she wants to do,” remarked Living Legends Founder and Manager Jim Greco. “Her drive to play baseball and to perform at an elite level, is high. She wants to be good at what she does, she wants to work hard. She shows that it doesn’t matter who you are, how big you are, how small you are, any of that stuff. If you really want something and go hard after it, you’re gonna have a chance to achieve it.”
If Fujii keeps working hard, she could perhaps continue to play baseball longer than most girls, who often switch to softball going into high school. Los Altos’ Jamie Baum is one local example of a girl currently playing high school baseball. Last season she was a freshman playing on the Los Altos junior varsity team.
Fujii says she wants to play possibly three more years of baseball which would take her into her high school years. If she does decide to try to play high school baseball, she will certainly have quite a big portion of the Santa Clara community rooting her on.