FARMINGDALE — It was an open invitation. It was a Friday night in late March, the first week of practice was drawing to a close, and Hall-Dale baseball coach Bob Sinclair wanted to give his team an opportunity to catch up with the regular season rapidly approaching.

“I told the players that I’d be willing to stay as long as they would like to work on any aspect of their game after practice,” Sinclair said. “The gym would be open and I’d stay as long as they wanted.”

He didn’t think he’d have to clarify what he meant. But freshman Akira Warren needed more information.

“Akira came up to me and started to ask, ‘Well, just how late are you willing to stay?’ ” Sinclair said. “And I’m thinking if I said I’d stay until 12:30 (in the morning), he’d be here until 12:30. It’s just that mindset that he has.”

That mindset has gone hand-in-hand with a physical skill set to match it, helping Warren emerge as a Hall-Dale and Mountain Valley Conference standout in his first high school season. The freshman has compiled a .500 batting average, .552 on-base percentage and .769 slugging percentage through Thursday, and he’s settled in as the team’s catcher, calling pitches and handling a pitching staff that has helped the Bulldogs to a 5-2 record.

“He’s just really mechanically sound in all aspects of the game,” Sinclair said. “He’s just really smooth. A lot of that, I feel, can’t be coached. It’s natural ability that he has.”

As for the pressure of adjusting to the varsity pace, it hasn’t been an issue. Warren said he hasn’t felt it.

“I’ve been playing in a different league with some high school kids, and I’ve been used to it,” said Warren, who played Babe Ruth in Augusta last summer. “I think I can compete with them.”

He’s been tested for longer than that. Born in Boston, Warren moved to Japan when he was 4, growing up in Tokyo and learning to play in a demanding baseball culture. Practice days in Japan are long — up to eight hours on weekends, Warren said — and intense, with scolding coaches putting pressure on young players to adapt to a high level of competition.

“Japan takes baseball very seriously,” he said. “The coaches will yell at the players. … When I got back here I played Little League, which was a big difference. It was like playing around.”

Warren moved back to Maine two years ago, just in time for the Little League season. His Hallowell-Farmingdale team reached the state final, where it lost to Biddeford, and by the time Warren was playing Babe Ruth the next summer, word of his ability had begun to spread around the tight-knit community.

“I was hearing about that from everybody,” junior pitcher and third baseman Dean Jackman said. “We’d go out and watch games because we’d hear about this kid who was moving in, coming from Japan and who had been playing on high school fields since he was in sixth grade and was really good. We knew about him a long time before this season started.”

Sinclair was among those watching him play, and knew he had a skilled player coming in. Just how polished he was, however, surprised him.

“When Akira moved to town, there was a lot of talk about the new ballplayer that had just arrived and how talented he was,” he said. “I’ve only had him for seven to eight weeks, but for what he’s been able to do in those weeks, it’s been pretty incredible and special.”

Warren has stepped in as the No. 3 hitter and been lethal at the plate, using a smooth — a word used often by his coaches and teammates — line-drive swing to gather six doubles and nine RBIs through the seven games.

“It’s weird because you go up there, you watch him swing and it doesn’t look like he’s putting in much effort,” Jackman said. “But then when he connects with the ball, you just see it fly and you go ‘Where is that coming from?’ It’s so natural to him and it’s so easy for him.”

The raw talent is there, but so is his baseball acumen, honed through his years of playing under the watch of Japanese coaches and his year-round play on summer leagues and AAU teams. Warren can play in the infield and outfield and can pitch — he’s 1-0 with a 1.24 ERA — but Sinclair put him behind the plate, where he’s rehearsed enough in the game to call pitches and where he’s quickly earned his pitchers’ trust.

“That just shows the type of confidence I have in his ability, and (how much) I appreciate the training he’s had up to this point,” Sinclair said. “It’s very, very impressive as a freshman to be able to do that.”

As is the case at the plate, Warren hasn’t been fazed by the challenge behind it.

“He’s confident in calling his pitches, too,” Jackman said. “I rarely have to shake him off. He usually knows what to call … and he’s not afraid to shake it up.”

Warren isn’t guessing. He studies the opponent’s batting practice before the game, keeping mental track of which pitches the hitters like, and where there could be holes in the swing.

“I look at them and see what they can’t hit and what they can,” he said. “Like inside and outside pitches. … I’ve been doing it for a while now.”

It’s dedication, and it doesn’t stop when the game ends. Warren’s parents film each game and he goes through the video afterward, speeding it up or slowing it down in order to find what he’s doing well or what could be just a little bit better.

“(I) see what I did wrong and what I did well,” he said. “I’m thinking about making a highlight video in my junior year, so we’ve been collecting videos right now.”

The diligent attitude doesn’t come as a surprise anymore to Sinclair. Not after seeing a glimpse of it for himself on that Friday back in March.

“He loves the game of baseball, and he puts in the work,” he said. “He’s beyond his years as a freshman here at the high school. He’s a complete player in all aspects of the game.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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