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Essay

Ohtani the Angel

By Patrick St. Michel

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I never rush out to buy new clothes, save for the few times I've needed a new dress shirt for a job interview. Yet when Japanese baseball player Shohei Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Dec. 8 last year, I ordered a T-shirt as quickly as I could.

In baseball communities on both sides of the Pacific, Ohtani's decision to head to Southern California was the biggest story of the offseason. The 23-year-old player had been a sensation in Japan since starting his career at age 18, playing for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

Ohtani isn't your average baseball player. He stood out in the Japanese league because he was a pitcher and a hitter. Or, better stated, an ace pitcher and excellent hitter. Very few players anywhere in the world could even be above average at both, let alone one of the best. Ohtani's double set of skills helped the Fighters win a championship in 2016 — and got him that year's MVP award. When he announced his intention to play overseas, many U.S. teams were interested.

Many in the American press called him the "Japanese Babe Ruth." George "Babe" Ruth is the most famous example in the U.S. of a player who pitched and hit spectacularly. And he did so all before the year 1920. The prospect of a player in the 21st century capable of that excited almost every club out there.

Nearly every team tried to recruit Ohtani. Many expected him to join the Seattle Mariners — the team that Ichiro Suzuki went over to back in 2001. They pursued Ohtani the most, and seemed ready to offer the most money.

I knew my favorite team, the Angels, were chasing Ohtani too. But I expected Seattle to get him. So when I woke up on that Saturday morning in December to see that he chose Anaheim — to the surprise of almost everybody — I was ecstatic. I spent the whole day soaking in reaction articles, and reveling in how sad Mariners fans were. It felt like an early Christmas present.

And I bought a T-shirt, a nice bright red one featuring Ohtani's number, 17, on the back.

There are many perks to Ohtani joining my favorite team. Japanese TV now covers the Angels as closely as an American channel. Games are broadcast regularly. I now have a player I can talk about with most of my friends here.

All this attention, though, also makes watching Ohtani try to make it in America more stressful. He has a long career ahead of him, but every game feels more important than the last. I hope I can keep wearing this shirt with pride for years to come.

大谷選手のエンゼルス移籍

北海道日本ハムファイターズから移籍し、今シーズンから大リーグ・エンゼルスでプレーしている大谷翔平選手。エンゼルスファンの筆者は移籍決定の一報を聞いたとき大喜びだった。

The Japan Times ST: April 20, 2018

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2018年4月27日号    試読・購読   デジタル版
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