Column: Shohei Ohtani’s intensifying desire to win stronger than any Angels curse?

Angels star Shohei Ohtani makes his way past a throng of journalists at T-Mobile Park in Seattle.
Angels star Shohei Ohtani makes his way past a throng of journalists at T-Mobile Park in Seattle on Monday ahead of the MLB All-Star Game. Ohtani isn’t saying much about where he might be playing in 2024.
(Lindsey Wasson / Associated Press)
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Do you believe in curses?

Shohei Ohtani laughed and tilted his head to the side.

“I wonder,” he said in Japanese.

You know, people think the Angels are cursed.

Before Ohtani could respond, a nearby Angels official broke up the exchange, purportedly because I spoke to him in Japanese while he was addressing American reporters.


Maybe the team was afraid of what he would say.

Ohtani is again the undisputed star of All-Star weekend. When players were made available to speak on Monday, his session was divided into three segments to manage the crowding around his table: Japanese TV, Japanese newspapers, American media.

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Eligible for free agency in the winter, the 29-year-old Ohtani didn’t share his thoughts on his future with any of the three groups.

He said he liked Angels fans.

He said he liked the city of Chicago.

He said he liked Seattle.

Make what you want of that, but a review of his practice schedule might be more enlightening.

Ohtani, whose 32 home runs lead the majors, has taken batting practice on the field only three times this year.

On April 18 at Yankee Stadium.

On May 23 at Angel Stadium.


On July 7 at Dodger Stadium.

The session at home was before a game against the Boston Red Sox.

So, coincidentally or not, Ohtani displayed his herculean power in front of three teams that are expected to pursue him this winter: the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers.

All three are big-market teams.

Shohei Ohtani speaks to reporters Monday at T-Mobile Park in Seattle.
(Lindsey Wasson / Associated Press)

Ohtani’s decision to join the Angels before the 2018 season created a perception in some circles that he prefers a small market, but the notion was quickly dismissed by former Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was in Seattle as a commentator for TV Asahi.

Matsuzaka and Ohtani were nationally famous in Japan from the time they were in high school. The media scrutiny might be more intense in New York than it is in Anaheim, but it’s nothing compared with what they experienced in Japan, where their every move was tracked.

“That was the norm since I turned professional in Japan,” Matsuzaka said in Japanese. “So I didn’t really feel it.”


If anything, he said he felt he was under less scrutiny in Boston. He thought Ohtani also wouldn’t have any problems if he signs with a big-market team.

“Whether it’s Boston or the Dodgers or the Yankees, I think he’ll be able to play at his own pace,” Matsuzaka said.

Regarding Boston specifically, Matsuzaka described the city as a welcoming place for a Japanese player.

“I still live there,” he said.

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Then again, Ohtani rarely leaves his residence or hotel. He was expecting to eat out with agent Nez Balelo before the All-Star Game but said he hadn’t been to a restaurant since the start of the season.

“Usually, there’s food at the ballpark,” Ohtani said. “If I’m hungry when I get back, I order food at the hotel. If there’s a game the next day, I can’t be coming back late.”

On the days the Angels play a night game at home, Ohtani said he typically wakes up at around 9:30 or 10 a.m. to eat breakfast and returns to bed afterward. When he wakes up again, he heads to the ballpark for lunch.


Asked if he does everything in life with baseball in mind, Ohtani laughed.

“It’s not that suffocating,” he said. “When I eat food, I eat thinking the food is delicious, and when I feel sleepy, I sleep.”

Still, he expressed a childlike enthusiasm for baseball.

Angels star Shohei Ohtani smiles during batting practice against the Dodgers on Friday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

In the All-Star Game, Ohtani said he would be less selective than usual in the batter’s box.

“Rather than take a walk, if I swing and swing, I think everyone will have more fun, so I want to swing aggressively,” he said.

Pointing to how he hadn’t homered yet in an All-Star Game, Ohtani said he wanted to send a ball over the outfield wall.

The idea of enjoying baseball surfaced again when Ohtani was asked about what motivated him.


“I like the game itself,” he said. “I like hitting and I like throwing. I think playing while having fun is No. 1.”

He was more guarded when the subject turned to his future.

If Ohtani knew what he hoped to gain in free agency, he wasn’t saying.

“I haven’t thought about it at all, so there really isn’t anything I can say at this stage,” he said. “Like I said before, I want to have a good season. That’s what I can do right now. What comes after is something I’d like to decide after.”

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However, Ohtani acknowledged that his desire to win was intensifying with every passing season. Two years ago, Ohtani famously said his feelings of wanting to win were stronger than his affinity for the Angels and their fans.

Of those feelings, Ohtani said, “I think it’s gotten stronger every year. When you lose, you’re upset. When you can’t go to the playoffs, you’re upset. I think it’s natural to want to win a championship when you’ve never won one.”

He said he didn’t have any thoughts about the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

“Individually, it’s not something I think about since it’s something I can’t control,” he said. “I try to control what I can control in the games. I think that comes first and that’s also the hardest thing to do, so I try to focus on that as much as I can.”

With injuries to key players mounting, the Angels dropped nine of their last 10 games before the All-Star break. They have unraveled in spectacular fashion — almost as if they are cursed.


What’s important is whether Ohtani thinks they are cursed. The Angels have to wonder.