Japanese baseball fans thrilled with Ohtani’s strong start
TOKYO (AP) — Shohei Ohtani’s electrifying start with the Los Angeles Angels certainly sent a jolt of excitement through his fans back home in Japan.
A slugger who can also pitch, Ohtani homered in his second straight home game Wednesday, blasting a two-run shot off AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber in the fifth inning of the series finale against the Cleveland Indians.
That followed a three-run homer in his first home at-bat on Tuesday.
Ohtani had only four hits and no home runs in 32 at-bats during spring training with the Angels. That led to reports he may start the regular season in the minors.
“I think it is amazing. That’s the only word that I can think of,” Japanese businessman Toru Fujimori said. “He couldn’t do well during the preseason and some newspapers said he may even be sent to the minor leagues. I think the team did very well to use him in the opening game despite that fact.”
The rookie sensation was big news in Japan, where political scandals and fears of U.S.-imposed trade tariffs have dominated headlines for weeks.
“I knew that he could do well in the majors, but I’m surprised that he hit two home runs in two consecutive games,” office worker Shuhei Abe said.
Japanese media also got into the act.
“Sensational Home Debut: First At-Bat, First Home Run,” read a front-page headline in the Sports Nippon newspaper.
After hitting his first home run, Ohtani’s teammates gave him the silent treatment by initially ignoring him when he came back to the dugout.
There are no such traditions in Japanese baseball so that also made headlines across the ocean.
“Ohtani Stunned by the Silent Treatment,” read a headline in the Nikkansports newspaper.
Ohtani’s former manager said the strong start was just the type of performance he has come to expect from the slugger.
“He came through with a big hit when everyone wanted him to, that’s just like Shohei,” said Hideki Kuriyama, Ohtani’s manager with the Nippon Ham Fighters. “Starting off like this should make things easier for him. It’s good to see him with a smile on his face.”
Most Japanese fans expected Ohtani to excel as a pitcher, so many were taken aback by his early prowess at the plate.
He hit 22 home runs for the Nippon Ham Fighters in 2016 but there were concerns he couldn’t handle major league pitching.
Those fears seem to have been put to rest.
“I want him to do well both at bat and as a pitcher,” university student Nana Tokuizumi said.