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His legend began with eating a lot. Just as swimming genius Mike Phelps ate over 10,000 calories a day during his prime, baseball genius Shohei Ohtani grew in size by eating 11 bowls of rice a day. Even though he was a skinny 4th hitter, he threw a fastball of 145 km, but he changed fundamentally after becoming a glutton. His height grew to 193 cm and his weight also increased by 20 kg. The fastball velocity exceeded the world's highest speed of 160 km. Few high school players could touch his ball.
Shohei Ohtani is a top pitcher and hitter in Major League Baseball (MLB). Known as the ‘Japanese Babe Ruth’ as he doubles as a pitcher and hitter, he joined the LA Angels in 2018 after conquering Japanese baseball. His right-handed pitching and left-handed striking were called dual-edged techniques in Japan, meaning 'two-edged techniques'. This meant that both pitching and striking were as sharp as a Japanese sword.
From the moment he joined the team, he was in the spotlight. Stories about fastballs exceeding 160 km/h and home runs reaching far into the distance were widely circulated around the world. In particular, the YouTube video of the ball he hit going through the ceiling of Tokyo Dome and disappearing was talked about like a legend in the baseball world.
He lived up to expectations and showed outstanding performance from his first year. He appeared as a batter and recorded 22 home runs, a batting average of 0.285, 61 RBI, and 10 stolen bases, and as a pitcher, he recorded 4 wins, 2 losses, and an earned run average of 3.31, and was named American League Rookie of the Year that year.
But soon a crisis came. He suffered a torn elbow ligament and underwent Tommy John surgery, preventing him from returning as a pitcher for a long time. His hitting also went downhill. He suffered a decline in 2019, and was relegated to the bench in 2020. He could be called the ‘curse of the rookie king’.
However, starting from the 2021 season, Ohtani has changed. He regained his fiery fastball. He threw three 161 km long fastballs in one inning alone. Of the 909 pitchers on the MLB mound in the 2021 season, only 57 (6.3%) pitchers threw even a single 161 km ball. Ohtani appeared as a starting pitcher in 23 games that year, recording 9 wins, 2 losses, and an ERA of 3.14, while striking out 157 batters.
His performance at the plate was even better. He hit 46 home runs, ranking third in both American and National leagues, and had a batting average of 0.257, an on-base percentage of 0.372, and a slugging percentage of 0.592. In particular, the OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage) of 0.965 was 5th in the two major leagues and 2nd in the American League. It was truly a perfect resurrection.
'Shohei Ohtani's Great Season' (Wisdom House), written by Jeff Fletcher, a sports reporter dedicated to Ohtani's team, the LA Angels, is a book that highlights Shohei Ohtani's performance. The book introduces his baseball journey from his childhood to relatively recent times.
Otani was born in 1994 in Oshu City, about 480 km north of Tokyo. Both of his parents were athletes. His father worked at a Mitsubishi factory and was a semi-professional baseball player and then played in an unemployment league, and his mother was a badminton player who was hoping to make it to the Olympics.
His father taught him baseball from his childhood. To be more precise, he taught his attitude toward baseball. Ohtani later recalled that the most important lesson he learned from his father was that 'you have to play with all your might.'
This became his lifelong motto. Although he has become a top-level major leaguer, he often runs with all his might, thinking about the possibility of a hit even after hitting an ordinary ground ball to second base. The author says, “I really can’t help but be impressed.”
Natural talent also played a role in his success. As a child, when he hit a long ball while standing in the left-handed batter's box, the ball usually went over the right fence and fell into the river. It is said that he hit home runs so often that losing so many balls became a problem. From then on, he honed his pushing technique, which later became a formidable weapon.
He was also a practice bug. He always says that after a game, he goes to his dorm to rest and prepare for the next day's game. Anthony Bass, a pitcher who played with him, described him as “a person who is very out of touch with the world.”
Otani grew up admiring Hideki Matsui, Yu Darvish, and Ichiro Suzuki since childhood. He dreamed of standing on the major league stage where they played. Now he is way beyond them. This year, he also ranked first overall in OPS and won the American League home run title. Even as a pitcher, he ranked 7th overall with an earned run average of 3.14.
Wednesday, November 8, 2023