Commentary: Ohtani creating a buzz and making the Angels relevant
It was supposed to be Shohei Sunday.
The weather didn’t cooperate. The temperature in Kansas City dropped to below freezing, causing the Royals and Angels to postpone a game that had been eagerly anticipated because it would have featured Shohei Ohtani’s third major league pitching start.
So now we have Shohei Today.
Ohtani’s first return to the mound since he pitched six perfect innings nine days ago against Oakland is scheduled for Tuesday at 7:07 p.m. at Angel Stadium against the Boston Red Sox.
That’s good news for Angels fans, who will have the opportunity to see him pitch at home. It’s good news and bad news for Ohtani. He didn’t have to test his super powers in the numbing cold of Kansas City and will make his next start in the warmth of Anaheim. On the other hand, instead of facing the last-place Royals he will be challenging the Red Sox, which, at 13-2, are the only American League team off to a better start than the 13-3 Angels.
On the mound for the Red Sox will be former American League Cy Young Award winner David Price, who was 1-1 with a 2.40 earned-run average before leaving his last start in the first inning as a precaution after feeling a tingling sensation in his fingers.
This is the marquee matchup the Fox network FS1 would have liked to have shown to a national audience. Instead, the game will be televised locally by the regional Fox Sports West.
Sunday’s game was originally scheduled for FSW, before the Angels announced Ohtani would pitch in that game at Kansas City. Fox called an audible, slotting the game for FS1 so that baseball fans across the nation could experience Sho-Time.
The network’s pregame announcers would spend 20 of their 30-minute show discussing Ohtani. When they learned the game had been postponed, host Kevin Burkhardt quietly said, “Bummer.”
He seemed sincerely disappointed, having said earlier of Ohtani’s start to the season, “It’s the best thing to happen to baseball in a long time. The Angels. Think about this. They’ve got the best player in the game. But they’re a West Coast team. Not everyone sees Mike Trout.
“There is a buzz around the country about [Ohtani], about the Angels, about baseball, that quite honestly hasn’t been there. He’s different.”
The national media have not been slow to respond, even if some among them expressed doubt based off his spring training performance that he was ready for the big leagues. (It was practice. Practice!)
Some skeptics have apologized for literally writing him off.
Above one story by Yahoo!Sports baseball reporter Jeff Passan, the headline read, “Dear Shohei: I’m sorry. I was totally wrong about you.”
On Twitter, Keith Olbermann said, “Spring training is [a] lie. I was wrong about him and then some.”
Other reporters have raved. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale compared Ohtani to Stan Musial at the plate and Bob Feller on the mound.
Many people have linked him with Babe Ruth, who, although he was not in the regular rotation as a pitcher for all but a short time in his career, is often referred to as the major leagues’ last two-way player before Ohtani. (Forgotten by too many are the several African-Americans and Latin-Americans who played in the Negro leagues.)
The Angels are nationally relevant again. That is a big leap for a team that was bordering on irrelevance even in Southern California. Through 16 games on FSW, their ratings are up 120% overall, and 191% in the 25-54 age group over the same number of games last season.
They are also internationally relevant. The Japanese national network, NHK, now televises Angels game in the early-morning hours. According to a recent Associated Press article from Tokyo, expectations are so high that a newspaper recently ran the headline, “Ohtani fails to homer in fourth straight game.”
Expectations are also higher than in recent memory for the Angels’ FSW primary television announcers, Victor Rojas and Mark Gubicza.
They are often criticized by local viewers, particularly those of a certain age who recall when Vin Scully, Dick Enberg, Chick Hearn and Bob Miller were all behind microphones here at the same time.
That era of broadcasters will never return. Rojas and Gubicza, like many in baseball television and radio booths today, were baseball players. Unlike Scully, they were not mentored by the legendary Red Barber.
Rojas and Gubicza are informative — they can instantaneously identify a two-seam 92-mph fastball — just not stylish. They sound much like every other baseball announcer in every other city, with few exceptions.
They also are burdened by excessive direction, with someone in their ear constantly telling them which sponsor to associate with which segment of the game and to elaborate on a barrage of graphics. All that noise creates flavorless broadcasts.
It’s not their fault.
But, as one reader suggested in a letter to the Times’ sports department Saturday, recall when Enberg was the Angels’ voice. Close your eyes and imagine.
“Ohtani! Oh my!”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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