Japanese baseball luminaries Hideki Kuriyama and Sadaharu Oh on Monday lauded Shohei Ohtani after the Los Angeles Angels star became the first player from the country to lead a U.S. major league in home runs.

World Baseball Classic-winning skipper Kuriyama, who gave Ohtani his professional debut in an unprecedented two-way role at the Nippon Ham Fighters in 2013, said the 29-year-old had achieved another major milestone by winning the American League home run crown with 44 this season.

Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama (front R) and Shohei Ohtani (front L) celebrate after winning the World Baseball Classic at loanDepot park in Miami on March 23, 2023.(Kyodo)

"He ventured into MLB pledging to become the best player in the world and he keeps going, clearing one hurdle at a time. That's something that makes me really happy," said the 62-year-old Kuriyama, who lifted the WBC trophy with Ohtani in March.

The Angels' team MVP for the third straight year, Ohtani is set to solely bat for the 2024 season following surgery on his throwing right elbow last month, but Kuriyama is sure he will make a strong recovery.

"I believe he'll continue to have tough moments ahead, but overcoming those is what Shohei is all about. I'm looking forward to seeing him power his way through and provide us with the new scenery that comes after it," Kuriyama said.

Oh, Japan's all-time home run leader with 868, said he was in awe of the heights Ohtani has reached.

A Japanese player winning an MLB home run title "was unthinkable around a decade ago," the 83-year-old said.

"He's become a respected batter in the United States too, and put himself in a position where he will remain in the history of baseball."

Sadaharu Oh (R), Japan's career home run leader and the chairman of the Pacific League's SoftBank Hawks, speaks to a club official at PayPay Dome in Fukuoka Prefecture on Oct. 2. 2023. (Kyodo)

By writing his name in the baseball record books with the latest feat, Ohtani has also changed the perception of Japanese batters.

Japanese position players had never contended for home run honors until Ohtani hit 46 in 2021. Before that, New York Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui's 31 in 2004, which was 12 short of the AL lead that year, was the best they managed.

Ohtani has been putting great emphasis on weight training from his time at Nippon Ham, with his Samurai Japan teammate and St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Lars Nootbaar stunned to see him squatting 500 pounds (227 kilograms) in the gym.

With his home runs traveling an average of 129 meters, among the furthest in the majors, Ohtani's outside batting practice has become a spectacle in its own right, as he effortlessly launches one ball after another into the stands.

"You cannot become a home run hitter without having the ability to hit far. He kept striving and built a body that does not get beaten (against MLB pitchers)," Oh said.

A resident in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture reads an extra edition from a local paper reporting Shohei Ohtani becoming a home run champion in the MLB American League on Oct. 2, 2023. (Kyodo)

"He can go on for another 15 years. I hope he wins another home run title."

News of Ohtani's title was warmly welcomed in his home city of Oshu in Iwate Prefecture, northeastern Japan, where a banner was hung from the municipal office building and a local paper handed out an extra 49,000 editions to residents throughout the prefecture.

"He hasn't changed from our time together, enjoying his baseball and treasuring his sleep," said Daiki Sasaki, Ohtani's teammate at Hanamaki Higashi High School.

"He came back even stronger after an injury during his time in high school. I'm sure he'll turn the latest one into a positive too."

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