Shohei Ohtani to get first spring training start, as a pitcher, on Saturday
He sent one ball over the scoreboard in right field and one over the batter’s eye in center, perhaps the only thing preventing Shohei Ohtani from launching one over a nearby celestial body being the moon’s absence in the early Thursday sunlight.
His Angels teammates hooted and thrust their fists into the air and, in one extreme example of awe, rushed over to squeeze the Japanese sensation’s biceps.
Yeah, some things are understood without translation.
Ohtani officially will make his Cactus League debut Saturday, at Tempe Diablo Stadium against Milwaukee, as a pitcher.
But he emphatically announced his arrival as a hitter during the Angels’ first workout in the park in which they play their spring training games. Well, that is, if rocketing a baseball at least 450 feet is considered emphatic.
About 15 minutes later, upon returning to the clubhouse, the Angels’ potential two-way star was greeted by a shout from across the room.
“Ohtani,” Martin Maldonado yelled, “you using cork?”
The Angels catcher then approached and grabbed one of Ohtani’s bats, playfully pretending to inspect it before acknowledging that the power was as authentic — and perhaps as relentless — as Ohtani’s smile.
That will change Saturday, the event so significant that the people back in Japan will be able to watch it live, the telecast starting at 5 a.m. Sunday, Tokyo time.
“I feel that this is a big step forward,” Ohtani said, speaking through an interpreter, of his debut. “I’m really happy at this point.”
Asked about the home run Thursday that cleared the batter’s eye, he said that he’s “starting to see the ball and hit the ball a little better,” but added, “Of course, the wind was another factor.”
It should be pointed out here, just for the record, that none of the other Angels managed to use that wind to hit a ball the distance equivalent to a football field and a half.
This game once had a marvel known as “The Say Hey Kid.” Now, it has this Shohei kid.
He’s such a near-mythical figure that, any day now, someone will be identified as being the Shohei Ohtani of the United States.
On the first day of full-squad workouts this week, Ohtani threw a bullpen session during which his every pitch was charted by the vigilant media chronicling his historic, Ruthian journey.
Those folks, naturally, are being paid to observe everything Ohtani does.
Not far away, however, another interested onlooker stood and stared, appearing to be almost mesmerized. It was Mike Trout, watching in the same manner people generally watch Mike Trout.
Once Ohtani emerges from the clubhouse each morning, the scrutiny is unending. About three dozen reporters and photographers are here to cover him daily and, if there’s any time left over, maybe another Angel or two.
Even then, most of the questions are about Ohtani, this entire franchise being viewed through a single player so potentially special that Ohtani will make two debuts.
His first game as a hitter could come as early as Monday, when the Angels travel to Peoria to play San Diego.
This sort of outside attention isn’t unusual, not in sports and, especially, not in baseball, first baseman Chris Carter having spent last spring with the New York Yankees and explaining that some 3,000 people showed up for the team’s first batting practice.
For the Angels, though, these many spying eyes are not common, this team more familiar with going largely unnoticed, despite the presence of players like Trout and Albert Pujols.
“It might make us feel more relevant,” pitcher Matt Shoemaker said. “As a West Coast team, we don’t get that much media. This might bring a little bit of an edge to guys, in a good way.”
Just like in the game of baseball itself, the players are having to adjust. Pitcher Andrew Heaney concluded a recent interview with a Japanese TV network by stiffly and awkwardly bowing.
Several of the Angels have admitted to finding themselves unsure what to do during the idle time when the cameras are rolling and their words are being translated.
The morning after throwing live batting practice to Ohtani, Garrett Richards was summoned for two interviews, it mattering little that Richards had thrown Ohtani one pitch, a pitch at which he didn’t swing.
With nothing else to really ask about, a reporter wondered how Ohtani looked standing at home plate.
“He’s a big guy,” Richards said. “He takes up quite a bit of the box.”
Shohei Ohtani is big, all right. Big, and about to get bigger.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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