Shohei Ohtani fever is really heating up in Angel Stadium
Duncan Harrington sat on the floor of the Angels’ team store, spinning a red toy bat, as his father shopped for Shohei Ohtani T-shirts.
Duncan is 6. He had never seen Ohtani play before Wednesday, but he is well aware that Ohtani is a superhero.
“He made 25 home runs in one whole game,” Duncan said.
Not as far as we know, at least not yet.
But life is pretty close to a video game when you can get a single on your first swing in the major leagues, pitch your team to victory in your debut on the mound, hit your first major league home run in your next game, and take the reigning Cy Young Award winner in your new league deep the game after that.
His second week in the majors has yet to begin.
Albert Pujols is bound for the Hall of Fame. Andrelton Simmons might be the best defensive player of our generation. Mike Trout might be the best player of our generation, period.
You wouldn’t know it, at least for the moment. These distinguished gentlemen are the supporting players in the Southern California premiere of Ohtani Mania.
Mike Scioscia, the Angels’ manager, thought back to the buzz surrounding the great Japanese players of recent years: Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, Yu Darvish.
Scioscia needed a greater comparison. The anticipation for Ohtani is exponentially greater.
“You’d have to compare it to Ken Griffey Jr. or Mike Trout, with those kinds of expectations,” Scioscia said.
“There’s another element to Shohei, being a two-way player. There’s a lot of intrigue with that. People will see how it’s going to work out.”
He hits! He pitches! OMG!
In spring training, Ohtani had 32 at-bats. He had four hits, none of them home runs, none even for extra bases.
Then it really did become Sho Time. In the first 14 at-bats that count, he has six hits, two of them home runs. The one Wednesday came against Cleveland Indians ace Corey Kluber, who has won the American League Cy Young Award in two of the last four years and finished in the top 10 in voting four years running.
The Angels scored three runs Wednesday. That home run, to dead center field, accounted for two.
It is early. The sample size is small. And yet, of all the players in the AL, only five had more at-bats and a higher on-base-plus-slugging percentage as of Wednesday evening.
There were two schools of thought about Ohtani in spring training, or so it seemed. He would need a lengthy adjustment period to be able to hit major league pitching, or he would not be able to hit at all.
His retort to those critics Wednesday?
“I don’t have anything to say to those guys,” he said.
He shrugged. He was not bragging. He did not appear to care. He had “bad results” in the spring, he said, and people had to write something.
“I’m just pumped because he was getting killed in spring training,” teammate Zack Cozart said, “even though it was spring training.
“It’s really impressive, if you think about it. All the pressure’s on him. He’s just kind of thrown that out of the way.”
On Wednesday, the presence of Ohtani was everywhere at Angel Stadium.
There was the fan waving a Japanese flag in the front row behind home plate. There was the concession stand featuring sushi rolls and pork katsu. There were the $34.99 men’s T-shirts, $39.99 women’s T-shirts and $49.99 two-tone red and gray T-shirts in the team store.
There was the video ad on the enormous scoreboard above right field, touting that Japan Airlines five times has been designated the “world’s most punctual airline.”
The Ohtani Show is must-see TV, all the more so in the majority of Southern California homes that have gone five years without seeing Clayton Kershaw on television.
You might hear something new, like this: Ohtani has separate entrance music as a hitter and pitcher.
He hits to “Wrapped Up,” by British singer-songwriter Olly Murs and featuring American rapper Travie McCoy. He pitches to “Do or Die,” a remix by Dutch producer Afrojack of a song by the Los Angeles band Thirty Seconds to Mars.
This is for real: Ohtani selected a song with the word “angels” in it.
“In the middle of the night, when the angels scream, I don’t want to live a lie that I believe,” the song starts. “Time to do or die. I will never forget the moment.”
That is the song he will hear when he makes his first home start Sunday. He will never forget the moment.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin
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