Angels welcome Ohtani, plot course for 2-way Japanese star
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — General manager Billy Eppler rose from his seat in rapturous joy when he got the phone call telling him Shohei Ohtani wanted to join the Los Angeles Angels.
When Eppler attempted to sit back down, he missed his chair completely, sprawling onto the floor.
Ohtani has inspired strong reactions ever since the world became aware of the Japanese star’s formidable talent as both a pitcher and a hitter.
Now that the Angels have landed such a coveted prize, they can’t wait to see who else he can knock over.
The Angels formally introduced Ohtani on Saturday, one day after the franchise won the baseball-wide competition for his services.
A lively crowd gathered in front of Angel Stadium cheered when Ohtani donned a red No. 17 jersey and hat on stage with team owner Arte Moreno, manager Mike Scioscia and Eppler.
Ohtani doesn’t speak much English yet, but he stepped to the podium and addressed the fans confidently: “Hi. My name is Shohei Ohtani.”
Ohtani already knows how to work a crowd, too: He had the perfect answer when asked whether he was more excited to get his first pitching victory or his first homer in the big leagues.
“Hopefully, if I can pull it off, maybe both in one game,” he said through a translator.
Ohtani’s grand experiment with the Angels is off to an entertaining start. The league-wide courtship ended Friday with his decision to join Mike Trout and Albert Pujols in Orange County.
The 23-year-old former Japanese MVP is attempting to become the majors’ most significant two-way player in several decades, and he will have every opportunity to fill two prominent roles with the Angels.
Ohtani is expected to join the Angels’ starting rotation next season, and he will be their designated hitter on many days when he isn’t pitching, Scioscia said. Ohtani won’t play in the outfield “at the outset” of his career, which likely includes at least his first season in Anaheim, Eppler said.
Ohtani’s decision was the culmination of years of hard work for the scouts and personnel executives led by Eppler, who has been traveling to Japan since 2013 to see Ohtani.
“There was a wow factor to him,” Eppler said. “He was a little bit of a show-stopper. Big fastball. The ability to throw three off-speed pitches for strikes. And have the presence in the batter’s box that we gravitated to. He fits a lot of our offensive philosophy.”
Although Eppler felt Ohtani would be an ideal fit with the Angels, he had no idea whether Ohtani would agree. Moreno led the Angels’ presentation to Ohtani on Monday after he selected them as one of seven finalists, and they waited nervously for four days before getting the news.
Ohtani didn’t reveal all of his reasons for choosing the Angels over the Mariners, Rangers, Dodgers, Cubs, Yankees, Red Sox and every other club.
“I just felt a strong connection with the Angels,” Ohtani said through a translator.
That’s enough for the Angels, who believe they can provide every opportunity for Ohtani to cultivate the two-way skills that have inspired comparisons to a young Babe Ruth. The Angels believe Ohtani has the intensity and focus to do something unprecedented in recent baseball history.
“This guy consumes all things baseball,” Eppler said. “There is not a lot else going on in his world but baseball (and) training. He does like to read a lot.”
Eppler also described Ohtani as “very humble,” and compared his mental makeup to that of Trout, whose video phone call to recruit Ohtani apparently went quite well. Trout, on the East Coast for his wedding this weekend, called Eppler late Monday night after the meeting to ask: “What’s he like? What’s he like?”
“He’s like you,” Eppler replied. “He’s simple, humble, and he wants to be great.”
Ohtani took a moment during his news conference to send good wishes to the two-time MVP for his wedding.
And when asked why he had chosen No. 17 after wearing No. 11 in Japan, Ohtani quipped: “I actually wanted No. 27, but somebody else (Trout) was wearing that number.”
About 200 media members were on hand for Ohtani’s arrival, including dozens from Japanese news outlets. Ohtani and the Angels realize his every move will be chronicled on a daily basis with likely the same fervor around Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui in their heyday, but judging by his confident performance in his first major appearance, it’s nothing Ohtani can’t handle.
Ohtani’s performance on the field is more important, and the Angels expect him to be an immediate hit there as well. Angel Stadium’s team shop already was doing a brisk business selling large piles of Ohtani jerseys and T-shirts on his first full day with the club.
“I think it’s going to be something very, very special for our fans,” Scioscia said. “Every player, to a man, is so excited about this acquisition. Our job is to see exactly how you get a multidimensional, two-way athlete like Shohei to bring his talent on the field often enough where he leads us to that championship.”
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