Kaito Streets isn’t your typical two-sport athlete. He’s played baseball since Little League, but the sport he dominates is hardly an All-American game.
The 17-year-old is currently tearing up the diamond at Sequoia High School in Redwood City, leading his team in home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage; but after graduation, he’s taking his talents to Penn State, where he’ll look to perfect his mastery over the sport of fencing.
“I will miss the competition of high school baseball,” Streets said. “But I’ve got to move on and focus on fencing.”
Streets started playing baseball when he was 6 years old; like many kids that age, he was also into Star Wars, action figures and mock sword fighting. At age nine, his mother pushed him to try fencing.
“I just loved playing with swords, so my mom made me try it,” he said.
And he took to it immediately. Four months after he started training competitively, he won the national championship for 10 year olds.
“It blew my mind,” said Mihaly Csikany, who’s coached Streets since he started fencing in 2005. “He really understood the concept of fencing.”
As an 11-year-old, Streets was the national runner-up (he lost to his training mate in the final), but he took the title again the following year. In January 2011, he won the under-16 Japanese national championship (he’s eligible as a dual citizen) and then returned home to shock the fencing world by capturing the under-20 Junior Olympics championship as a 16-year-old.
“It was a big surprise,” Streets said. “I wasn’t favored or expected to even come close to winning it.”
Contrary to conventional wisdom, Streets said there’s a lot of crossover between fencing and baseball. Both sports are highly cognitive and involve putting oneself into an opponent’s head, anticipating their next move.
“You have to read your opponent fast before he makes his move and counter,” he said.
Csikany said Streets’ instincts, ability to adjust on the fly and resiliency are what sets him apart. In many of his biggest matches, he trailed at the break but came from behind to pull it off.
Sequoia coach Corey Uhalde said Streets’ mental toughness shows up on the diamond, too.
“He’s not afraid of anyone, any at-bat,” he said. “He’s willing to step in there and be the guy who gets a big hit in a big situation.”
Streets said he’ll miss the team aspect of baseball, but he’s looking forward to pushing his fencing skills at Penn State and making a run at the Olympics in 2016.
“I’m excited to join that team and try to help them win a championship,” he said.