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At Florida’s elite IMG Academy, Koji Uehara’s son harbors major league dreams

Kaz Uehara, Koji's son, is a 15-year-old lefty playing for the elite IMG Academy.Peter Abraham/Globe Staff

BRADENTON, Fla. — Nine years later, Kaz Uehara still doesn’t know how he got on the stage after the Red Sox won the American League pennant in 2013.

But there he was, a self-assured 6-year-old doing an interview with Erin Andrews on national television as the crowd at Fenway Park cheered.

“I was on somebody’s shoulders and next thing I know I was up there,” Uehara said. “It was crazy.”

Koji Uehara was the near-perfect closer of that Sox team, and Kaz was at his side for much of that memorable championship season, usually in full uniform.

Now he’s a 15-year-old sophomore wearing the blue-and-white uniform of IMG Academy, an elite private school with 12 baseball teams, four immaculately groomed fields, and covered batting cages.


Kaz is a lefthanded pitcher and outfielder for the top-level junior national team fielded by the Ascenders. He’s a college prospect with nearly 5,000 Twitter followers who has ambitions of following his father into pro ball.

“It’s baseball 24/7 here and I love it,” Uehara said.

IMG has two of the top high school prospects in the country, outfielder Elijah Green and lefthander Jackson Ferris. The coaching staff has several former big leaguers, including former Red Sox pitcher Kason Gabbard.

D’Angelo Ortiz, David’s son, played at IMG before transferring to another baseball powerhouse, Westminster Christian, closer to his family’s home in Miami.

So Uehara having ties to the majors is not unusual on campus.

“My friends know, but I don’t like talking about it,” he said. “I want people to know me for me.”

Koji Uehara signed with the Orioles in 2009 after playing 10 seasons in Japan. He went on to play for the Rangers, Red Sox, and Cubs, but Kaz and his mother, Miho, remained in Baltimore.

“I was basically an American kid,” Kaz said. “I liked mac and cheese and hot dogs and I played ice hockey and watched my dad play baseball.


“When I was in seventh grade, we talked about where I would go to high school, and [IMG] was where I felt comfortable and I came here in eighth grade.

“I can further my academics and baseball here. I’m here for a reason. The competition is tough and sometimes you have doubts or worry about being burned out. But if you have a goal like I do, you want to be at a place like this.”

Kaz Uehara hopes to play in college.Peter Abraham/Globe Staff

His aim is to play in college, and there are Division 1 teams following Uehara’s progress.

“He’s got a lot of good things coming his way,” said Mark Morawski, who coaches Uehara’s team. “He’s a very focused kid, a late bloomer physically. He’ll get bigger, and the ability is there.

“It’s not about velocity at this stage. It’s about learning to pitch and compete, and he’s right on schedule in that sense.”

Uehara throws a two-seam fastball with a natural run, a traditional curveball, and a changeup. He also plays with the poise and knowledge of having grown up in major league clubhouses.

At 5 feet 8 inches and 155 pounds, Uehara will need a growth spurt to get major league teams interested. But they’re aware of his potential.

“I like playing outfield, but I know my future will be pitching,” Uehara said. “I’d love to get drafted but going to college first would be great. Playing for a school in Boston is something I’d love to do. I love that city.”


In time, most likely when he gets to college, Uehara plans to incorporate a split-finger fastball. It was his father’s best weapon over 21 seasons as a professional, a fiendishly deceptive pitch that started out straight then dived at the plate.

It’s also a pitch that can be tough on a pitcher’s forearm, so there will be caution.

“No splitter yet,” Uehara said. “My dad says once I get bigger, he’ll teach me the split. I want to develop everything else first. I’m just waiting.”

Koji Uehara's son, Kaz, is a top prospect at IMG Academy
Kaz Uehara, a 15-year-old lefty, is a pitcher and outfielder for a top-level junior-national team at IMG Academy.

Uehara is a different kind of athlete. He throws a football righthanded, and for a time when he was younger, he was ambidextrous with a baseball. He’s also a good golfer.

“I watched my pops play on television and I had a righty glove like he did,” he said. “But it was more natural to throw lefty.”

Uehara has fond memories of the four seasons his father played for the Red Sox, mostly of Fenway Park and how the fans embraced his family.

“What I really remember is postseason baseball,” he said. “That was everything. Being around those big leaguers and playing wall ball with D’Angelo in the training room.

“I wish I could go back in time and have the mind-set I have now and ask questions of those players. I still remember everything. I was in the clubhouse during games; it was amazing. Truly it was a blessing. Those are days I’ll never forget.”


Kaz Uehara mimics his dad, Koji, while he got loose in the outfield before the 2014 home opener.The Boston Globe/Boston Globe

Koji Uehara splits his time between the United States and Japan, where he works as an analyst with the NHK television network. He’ll be in Bradenton later this month to watch his son play.

Maybe the day will come when Kaz Uehara gets back on an October stage.

“I’m going to work hard to be better than my pops,” he said. “I know that’s a hard goal and a long goal. But I have to try.”

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him @PeteAbe.