‘Simply thankful’ Shohei Ohtani calls MLB All-Star Game the most memorable experience of his career

DENVER – He wasn’t voted the MVP, that honor went to Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

He didn’t get a hit, or even get the ball out of the infield in two plate appearances.

He pitched a 1-2-3 inning, but didn’t strike anyone out.

It didn’t make a lick of difference.

The All-Star Game, won by the American League for the eighth consecutive year, 5-2, still belonged to Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels.

Ohtani, the winning pitcher with his one inning of work, was the one who received the loudest ovations throughout Tuesday night in front of a sellout crowd of 49,184 at Coors Field.

“I was simply thankful,’’ Ohtani says, “for all the cheers and support I got.’’

He was the one who drew all of the oohs and aahs with his back-to-back 100-mph fastballs against Nolan Arenado, the fastest recorded pitch since his first start of the season, in his 1-2-3 first inning.

“I was only throwing one inning,’’ shrugged Ohtani.

He was even cheered wildly for his two groundouts, one that was hit smack into the shift.

“I always hit it right to them in the shift,’’ Ohtani said, laughing.

Ohtani, who arrived into town Sunday night, leaves Denver completely exhausted, but couldn’t stop from smiling during his 72-hour binge.

“Definitely it was a lot more tiring compared to the regular season,’’ Ohtani says, “but I had fun.’’

Let’s see, he hit six home runs over 500 feet in the Home Run Derby on Monday night, taking Juan Soto to double overtime, before going out in the first round.

Shohei Ohtani delivers a pitch in the first inning.

Shohei Ohtani delivers a pitch in the first inning.

He grounded out to second baseman Adam Frazier in the first inning.

He went to the mound and retired all three batters he faced, throwing six of 14 pitches at 97-mph or faster.

He grounded out to first baseman Freddie Freeman in the third inning.

And he spent the fourth inning standing outside the American League clubhouse, surrounded more than 100 reporters, saying how he had the absolute time of his life.

“I think so far [in my career],’’ Ohtani said, “this has been the best experience, the most memorable.’’

He was nervous, but felt immediately accepted walking into the American League All-Star clubhouse, flanked by his heroes he watched growing up in Japan, including Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr.

“Before I talked to them,’’ Ohtani said, “they were kind of intimidating. But once I talked to then, everyone was all great. I had a great time meeting everybody.’’

You kidding?

They were ecstatic meeting Ohtani.

“We were all asking for his autograph,’’ Minnesota Twins All-Star DH Nelson Cruz said. “I got two autograph pictures myself.’’

The Hall of Fame Baseball Museum did even better.

They received his All-Star game cleats, hand guard and foot guard.

The All-Stars spent all weekend marveling over Ohtani, unable to fathom how he’s leading the majors leagues with 33 homers and slugging percentage .698, striking out 11.69 batters per nine innings as a pitcher.

Says Yankees All-Star pitcher Gerrit Cole: “It’s just so marvelous to watch. He’s showing anything’s possible.’’

MIDSUMMER CLASSIC: American League takes eighth straight MLB All-Star Game

OHTANI: Angels All-Star pitches a perfect 1-2-3 inning

SAY WHAT? All-Star uniforms draw pointed comments on social media

If anyone saw this coming, it was Daike Obara, who has known Ohtani since they were eight years old. They grew up together, played baseball together, and were on the same high school baseball team together at Hanamaki Higashi High School in Iwate, Japan.

Obara even has a video on his cell phone showing Ohtani hitting a towering home run at the age of 11, remembering the game that Ohtani once hit four homers off him.

Now, he knows the most popular man in all of Japan, wondering how in the world he could even walk the streets in Japan this winter without being swarmed by fans.

“It’s going to be crazy,’’ Obara tells USA TODAY Sports. “There’s no one bigger in Japan. Every morning in Japan, the day starts with Shohei. Their game is ending by the time we wake up, so everyone turns on the TV and the internet to see how Shohei did. And then everyone spends the day talking about him.’’

And, oh, how they will have someone to talk about Wednesday morning knowing that Ohtani made history by becoming the first player to start a game as a pitcher and a position player.

You’ve got to be awfully special for MLB to change the rules just for him, permitting Ohtani to stay in the game as a DH even after leaving the game as a pitcher following the first inning.

“This was the biggest game in Japan since the ’64 Tokyo Olympics,’’ Obara said. “It means so much to everyone back home.’’

It just adds to the legend, Obara says, even topping that moment at their high-school dormitory when Ohtani woke up late. He rushed out, but at 6-foot-4, his head slammed into the lower door frame.

Ohtani was just fine, and kept running out.

The door frame was completely cracked.

“The crack in that door frame is still there,’’ Obara says. “‘It’s almost an historical landmark now.’’

The legend is just getting started.

“He’s creating the wave, right?’’ Cole says. “He’s in front of the wake. I’m a dreamer. People looking up to Shohei, and seeing how he’s been able to do it and blow past expectations, proves that anything is possible.’’

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Shohei Ohtani ‘simply thankful’ for MLB All-Star Game experience

Leave a Comment