Savor greatness of Shohei Ohtani

DENVER — Gerrit Cole and Aaron Judge sat side-by-side for media availability in an outdoor pavilion adjacent to Coors Field on Monday. They represented two All-Stars, of course. Or, perhaps, one.

So I asked Cole what it would be like to have one player able to pitch somewhat like him and hit with the power of Judge. Cole offered one word, the word of the day at the All-Star festivities: “Ohtani.” Then the Yankees ace smiled and continued, “You have to add Billy Hamilton, too, because he’s faster than all of us.”

Cole holds hitters to a .203 average and strikes out 11.6 per nine innings; Ohtani .202 and 11.4. Ohtani has five more homers than anyone in the majors, 40 points more of slugging and is fifth in average exit velocity behind Giancarlo Stanton, Judge, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. His sprint speed is 28.8 feet per second, the same as Kansas City All-Star Whit Merrifield, who also happens to lead the majors in stolen bases.

“At one time he will have the most power, the top velocity and the best speed of anyone on the field,” Cole said.

As Judge said, “He is one of one.”

Ohtani is a unicorn. The only player who feels close to this in my lifetime is Bo Jackson, who played baseball and football at All-Star and All-Pro levels. Jackson invoked questions should he play baseball or football, in the way that Ohtani does whether he should hit or pitch. And I get it. We are a debate society and this level of athlete going where no one else has ever gone motivates debate about what is best. Should he just pitch? Just hit? Should he switch to being a reliever? A full-time outfielder?

Shohei Ohtani
Shohei Ohtani
Getty Images

I think the answer is to enjoy it. Who knows how long Ohtani can be one of the 20 or so best starters in the majors and perhaps the top power hitter while running like a fleet center fielder? Will it prove too daunting eventually? Will it hasten injury ? Maybe. Perhaps. When it ends, it ends. Until then, appreciate the once-in-a-century nature of it all.

“It’s really amazing,” Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez said. “I walked up to him [Monday], shook his hand and said, ‘Hi, Babe Ruth.’ I mean who else is he?”

He is the first since Ruth in 1918-19 to pitch and hit regularly at this kind of frequency and with this kind of excellence. Ruth gave it up because it just became too much. As Judge said, “I think it is tough to describe Shohei. I know what it takes to prepare, work and maintain to feel good about just a swing. That takes me all day before a game. Now imagine what you have to do to maintain your arm and your legs for stamina. … I can’t step in his shoes. He wows a lot of people.”

That goes for off the field as well. While others begged out of the Home Run Derby like Judge, who talked about the physical mess he became after winning in 2017, or just didn’t attend this Midsummer Classic despite being named such as Jacob deGrom, Ohtani is embracing the moment. His dance card was Monday night Home Run Derby, then Tuesday leading off on offense and defense in the All-Star Game.

If that were not enough, Ohtani’s first-round Derby matchup versus Washington’s Juan Soto went first to a tiebreaker, then a swing-off. Soto ultimately advanced, but not before the American League’s starting pitcher in the All-Star Game had hit 15 homers more than 475 feet.

“I’m expecting to be pretty fatigued and exhausted after these two days, but there’s a lot of people that want to watch it and I want to make those guys happy,” Ohtani said. “That’s why I’m going to do it.”

It is Ohtani’s moment. His time. He is star among this year’s All-Stars. The game is his canvas. To hit. To run. To pitch. To do it all with magnanimity and modesty. As Rangers slugger Joey Gallo said, “The expectations on him were so high and he is just blowing them away completely. And he is doing it with such humility, it is so easy to cheer for him.”

He can throw it in the high-90s, hit it in triple digits and run faster than 92 percent of players. For how long? For now, table that debate. The answer will come. In time. For now, watch. Marvel. Appreciate that you might never see this again. You can debate what he should do. But here is my advice:

Enjoy it.


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