Shohei Ohtani solidifies role as baseball’s biggest attraction in All-Star debut

American League's Shohei Ohtani looks to his fielders before throwing his first pitch.
American League’s Shohei Ohtani looks to his fielders before throwing his first pitch during the first inning of the MLB All-Star game on Tuesday in Denver.
(Gabriel Christus / Associated Press)

They cheered their own, hometown ovations for Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black and shortstop Trevor Story, and a raucous welcome back to former Rockies star Nolan Arenado.

They booed players from the Yankees and Dodgers, jeering even Chris Taylor for his place on an evil big-market team.

For almost every other player introduced at the start of Tuesday’s MLB All-Star game, however, the crowd reception was routine.


For only one other player did the 49,184 inside Coors Field make an exception, roaring to life at the announcement of one more specific name.

“Leading off,” Fox broadcaster Joe Buck announced over the stadium public-address system, “the designated hitter, and starting pitcher: Shohei Ohtani!”

Suddenly, as the Angels’ two-way star flashed across the video board, warming up in the bullpen in preparation for his first All-Star game appearance, a jam-packed ballpark went nuts.

If ever there was a doubt about Ohtani’s place, popularity and impact within the sport, this week’s festivities had delivered one more moment putting them to rest.

Over the first half of this season, Ohtani has become one of the biggest attractions in baseball. And this week, he looked like a natural in the role, calmly and confidently saying and doing all the right things.

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He participated in Monday’s home run derby, exhausting himself in an epic first-round defeat to Juan Soto. He walked the “Purple Carpet” before Tuesday’s game and made TV appearance after TV appearance leading up to first pitch.

The first player in MLB history to be selected to an All-Star game as a pitcher and hitter, he did both in the midsummer classic too, grounding out twice as the American League’s starting designated hitter and pitching a perfect first inning as the team’s starting pitcher, hitting 100 mph in a game for the first time in three months.

He called it the “most memorable” moment of his MLB career so far — “obviously I’ve never played in the playoffs yet, or World Series,” he noted, adding “once I do that, that’s probably going to surpass it” — and said he even got nervous being around so many other greats in the sport.

“Before I talked to them, they were kind of intimidating,” Ohtani said through his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. “But once I got to talk to them, everyone was all great.”

Ohtani’s exploits this week came against the backdrop of controversial comments from ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith, who on Monday criticized Ohtani’s use of an interpreter. Smith later apologized, but not before his remarks reverberated around the sport, rallying the baseball world to Ohtani’s side.

A fan of Shohei Ohtani watches during batting practice prior to the MLB All-Star game.
A fan of Shohei Ohtani watches during batting practice before the MLB All-Star game on Tuesday in Denver.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Ohtani didn’t address Smith’s comments directly, but did speak on Tuesday about his hopes of helping the game grow.

Responding to a question about the “Ohtani mania” sweeping across the sports world, he said: “I’m happy for that. But if more people are watching baseball, it makes me happy and it’s good for the sport.”

He acknowledged how much more tiring this week was compared to his normal regular-season workload, but added: “If everyone had fun, then I’m all good with it.”

Ohtani’s performance Tuesday might not have matched the drama of the derby the day before, but his two-way appearance on its own was the source of more history.

He was only the fourth starting pitcher in All-Star game history to also take two at-bats, and the first pitcher of any kind to come to the plate in the game since Roy Halladay in 2009.

He also became the first player in any game (regular season, postseason or All-Star) in baseball’s modern era (since 1901) to be the starting pitcher, start in the leadoff spot of the batting order and earn the winning decision.

And if that wasn’t enough, there were testimonials to his talents throughout the day too.

Arenado, San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. and Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy — who all recorded outs in Ohtani’s scoreless first inning — each used the word “incredible” to describe the 27-year-old super-talent.

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July 13, 2021

AL manager Kevin Cash, who helped get the league to literally change the rules of Tuesday’s game so that Ohtani could remain in the batting order after his pitching outing was complete, said in his postgame news conference: “The way he has handled everything makes it that much more special.”

And even Angels teammate Jared Walsh — who went 0 for 2 but had a key sliding catch in left field with the bases loaded in the eighth inning — was amazed at how Ohtani embraced the spotlight.

“On the bench, it occurred to me how many directions he’s being pulled right now,” Walsh said. “I know he had a great time. But man, he’s got a lot on his shoulders.”

Not that he seems to be having any trouble carrying it.

“It was definitely more fun than nervous,” Ohtani said, adding: “Simply thankful for all the cheers and all the support I get.”

Angels star Shohei Ohtani talks about competing in the home run derby, playing in the MLB All-Star game and seeing his legions of fans.