Shohei Ohtani’s well-chronicled day off
Like most Broadway productions on the traditional first day of the workweek, Sho-Time was dark Monday night, the Angels giving Shohei Ohtani a recovery day after his sizzling major league pitching debut in Oakland on Sunday.
Ohtani-mania, however, remained lit.
Ohtani was not in the lineup for a 6-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians in the home opener, and he didn’t hit on the field before the game, but there was still a huge Japanese media contingent on hand to chronicle his every move, or non-move, as was the case Monday.
Some 50 to 60 reporters and photographers stood in front of the dugout during batting practice, seemingly impervious to the ear-splitting, bone-rattling hip-hop music blaring from the new field-level speakers flanking the dugout.
There were so many media members inside the dugout that shortstop Andrelton Simmons looked like he weaved through an obstacle course going from the far end of the dugout to the bat rack.
“Honestly, I love that [the media] gives more attention to him and less to me,” Simmons said in the clubhouse before warmups. “The only problem I have is that sometimes it gets crowded in here … or out there.
“I do feel bad for Shohei. It would be nice to get him some breathing room sometimes. I’ll shoo a couple of reporters away if I have to, and if we see that it’s too much, if he gets overwhelmed, we’ll help him out. It’s a lot of work for him, but he’s handling it pretty well.”
What about the other 24 guys in the room? How are they handling a new clubhouse dynamic that is similar to what the Dodgers experienced during Hideo Nomo’s rookie year in 1995 and the Seattle Mariners experienced during Ichiro Suzuki’s rookie year in 2001, when one player is clearly the main attraction?
The Angels have arguably the best all-around player in baseball in center fielder Mike Trout, a first-ballot Hall of Famer in first baseman Albert Pujols and several other respected veterans, and they are dwarfed by the presence of a 23-year-old rookie.
“It’s great — give him the attention,” pitcher Matt Shoemaker said. “I think people embrace it. They enjoy it. Not that we need it, but it brings more attention to the team, us being a West Coast team, with the time difference.”
Despite the heavy pressure and expectations, Ohtani looks like he’s having a blast, especially when he broke into a huge grin and exchanged hugs and high-fives with teammates after completing Sunday’s six-inning, three-hit, three-run, six-strikeout, one-walk effort in a 7-4 victory over the Athletics.
Would the Ohtani effect be tougher to embrace if Ohtani was aloof or a prima donna?
“It would be interesting if he was, but too bad for him, he’s a nice guy, and he tries to please everybody,” Simmons said. “He handles it really well for a 23-year-old with all the hype and all the attention he gets, doing something that doesn’t get done very often, and trying to get his work in while all that is going on.”
If Ohtani continues to pitch as he did Sunday, when he averaged 97.8 mph on the 39 four-seam fastballs he threw and induced 10 swinging strikes with a sharp-breaking split-fingered pitch, he will not be a distraction, no matter how large his media contingent grows.
“He gets all the attention because everybody loves the new,” said Simmons, who singled his first two at-bats Monday night. “It’s good. I’m glad he gets it. He’s a special talent. But at the same time, I hope he keeps doing a good job.”
Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter @MikeDiGiovanna
Go beyond the scoreboard
Get the latest on L.A.'s teams in the daily Sports Report newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.