Who is Ippei Mizuhara, Ohtani’s interpreter?

Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani's interpreter Ippei Mizuhara stands in the dugout during an opening day baseball game against the San Diego Padres at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, South Korea Wednesday, March 20, 2024. Ohtani’s interpreter and close friend has been fired by the Dodgers following allegations of illegal gambling and theft from the Japanese baseball star. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter Ippei Mizuhara stands in the dugout during an opening day baseball game against the San Diego Padres at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, South Korea Wednesday, March 20, 2024. Ohtani’s interpreter and close friend has been fired by the Dodgers following allegations of illegal gambling and theft from the Japanese baseball star. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Japanese interpreter Ippei Mizuhara has been fired by the Los Angeles Dodgers after allegations he stole money from baseball star Shohei Ohtani to service illegal gambling debts.

But who is Mizuhara and how did he get in a position to carry out the alleged theft from his close friend?

The 39-year-old Mizuhara is a familiar face to baseball fans as Ohtani’s companion, having interpreted for the star with mainly media since Ohtani moved to the United States in 2017.

Mizuhara even served as Ohtani’s catcher during the Home Run Derby at the 2021 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. When Ohtani left the Los Angeles Angels for a $700 million, 10-year contract with the Dodgers in December, the club also hired Mizuhara.

Mizuhara was born in Japan and moved to the Los Angeles area in 1991 so his father could work as a chef. He attended Diamond Bar High School in eastern Los Angeles County and graduated from the University of California, Riverside, in 2007.

After college, Mizuhara was hired by the Boston Red Sox as an interpreter for Japanese pitcher Hideki Okajima. He returned to Japan in 2013 to translate for English-speaking players on the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. That’s where he first met Ohtani, who joined the team that same year.

After Ohtani signed with the Angels in 2017, the team hired Mizuhara to work as his personal interpreter, and he followed the player when he joined the Dodgers.

Mizuhara was in the Dodgers’ dugout on Wednesday during its season-opening win over San Diego in Seoul.

Ohtani made his Dodgers debut in the game but it has been overshadowed by reports from the Los Angeles Times and ESPN about Mizuhara’s alleged ties to an illegal bookmaker.

Law firm Berk Brettler LLP followed up Wednesday by saying, “Shohei has been the victim of a massive theft.”

Sports gambling is illegal in California, even as 38 states and the District of Columbia allow some form of it.

Mizuhara told ESPN on Tuesday night he gambled on international soccer, the NBA, the NFL and college football, but said he never bet on baseball, which is prohibited among team employees under MLB rules.

Mizuhara said he incurred more than $1 million in debt by the end of 2022 and his losses increased from there. He told ESPN that Ohtani paid his gambling debts at his request.

But Ohtani’s attorneys then released a statement saying the player was a victim of theft, and ESPN says Mizuhara changed his story Wednesday to say Ohtani had no knowledge of the gambling debts and had not transferred any money to bookmakers.

The MLB gambling policy is posted in every locker room. Betting on baseball is punishable with a one-year ban from the sport. The penalty for betting on other sports illegally is at the commissioner’s discretion.

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