'He chose the Angels!' Japanese Americans in Southern California can't wait to see Ohtani

'He chose the Angels!' Japanese Americans in Southern California can't wait to see Ohtani
"He’s giving the Angels a chance to be competitive again,” one fan said. (Toru Takahashi / Associated Press)

The news spread as fast as they could read it on their phones.

And inside bustling Mitsuwa Marketplace in Costa Mesa on Friday, shoppers waiting in holiday-season lines — purchasing geoduck, rice cookers and beribboned mochi sweets ready for gifting — started sharing it.


"Did you hear? He chose the Angels! The Angels!" Anaheim resident Abe Hirahara said excitedly. He pointed to an image on his iPhone of Japan's Shohei Ohtani, one of the most-wooed prospects in Major League Baseball history, who had bypassed the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers to sign with Hirahara's hometown team. "Now I will finally see him in action in person," he said.

Once word got out that Ohtani — a 23-year-old power hitter with a triple-digit fastball — would be coming to Anaheim, the media descended on Orange County's Japanese American community.

Hirahara said he would price tickets for upcoming games, with an eye on buying some as Christmas presents.

Supermarket manager Dwaine Yamasaki, who played baseball in high school in Gardena, said Ohtani "has amazing potential. I thought he would go to the National League, but he surprised us with this one. And who knows, maybe he'll have more surprises for everyone."

Ohtani is a household name in his homeland, and fans here predicted those in the stands soon would be chanting for him like they did for Ichiro Suzuki, who made it big in the U.S. playing with the Seattle Mariners.

Huntington Beach High School senior Nick Nojiri, an avid Dodgers fan, said that since Kobe Bryant retired from the Lakers, "I don't have an absolute favorite athlete, so I will have to look at this guy."

Mike Gin, owner of the Far Bar in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo, said of Ohtani, who became a superstar for Japan's Nippon-Ham Fighters: "With his dual ability pitching and batting, we haven''t seen any player like that in our lifetime. It's always a big risk to sign an international player because, sometimes, you don't know if his talent will translate when playing against the very best in the game."

Passionate about the sport since age 8, Gin said what he appreciates about Ohtani is "he's not money-driven, by all accounts. His goal is to find a team that would be interested in allowing him to be a two-way player and to develop.

"In choosing L.A., he's coming to the community that will embrace him. And he's giving the Angels a chance to be competitive again."

Tatsuya Morikawa, a sushi chef in Alhambra who plays outfield in a local Japanese baseball league, said he's eager to watch Ohtani. "The Japanese don't get noticed much, like some other Asian groups in California, since we're not as large. But in sports, we have big, big names," he said, adding that when Japanese players come to the U.S., "they are about the sport. … No partying, no drinking. They just want success."

Yamasaki, the manager at Mitsuwa, said he too likes Ohtani's competitiveness. "Kids have someone to look up to who is worthy," he added. "And you're going to see a lot more Japanese audience in the stands."

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