When Ohtani smacks a 450-foot home run for the Los Angeles Angels, do you clap or cringe? When he strikes out 12 in seven innings, do you high-five your friend or high-five your forehead? There was a time it looked like he might play for Seattle.
It isn’t right to bask in other people’s failures, but let’s be honest, we all do it from time to time. And this past March, most Mariners fans did it with Shohei Ohtani.
They saw a Japanese sensation humbled by the best baseball players in the world. They thought maybe his decision to spurn Seattle in favor of Anaheim wouldn’t be so torturous after all. They saw his shoddy spring-training stats and figured the hype was Himalayans higher than his actual skill set.
Then the regular season started. My goodness.
How do you react to him if you’re a lifelong M’s fan? How do you balance the appreciation of greatness and the knowledge he might single-handedly extend Seattle’s playoff drought?
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When he smacks a 450-foot home run, do you clap or cringe? When he strikes out 12 in seven innings, do you high-five your friend or high-five your forehead?
In Ohtani, the sports world is witnessing something it hasn’t seen since Babe Ruth. But while the rest of the country marvels, I can’t help but think that Seattle mourns.
There was a time where it looked like the 23-year-old might be coming to the Emerald City. He’d put Seattle on his short list and charged the city with hope.
He almost immediately nixed the Yankees as a possible destination because he didn’t want to play in a big market. Then, he chose the second-biggest market in the country.
Hey, you can’t fault the man. When a situation feels right, you have to embrace it.
Ohtani gets to enjoy the SoCal sunshine and play alongside the best player of his generation, Mike Trout. He also gets the chance to torment the Mariners nearly 20 times a year as a Los Angeles Angel.
This might not have smarted so much had Ohtani picked the San Diego Padres, which many anticipated he would. Yeah, Seattleites would have liked to have him, but it would be easier to enjoy his talents if he were in the National League.
He still might sell out Safeco if he’s on the mound against the M’s, but how can fans around here not frequently wonder what could have been?
Ten games into the season, Ohtani was 2-0 with a 2.08 earned-run average, 18 strikeouts, three home runs and an .889 slugging percentage. Not since Tiger Woods winning the 1997 Masters by 12 strokes has a prodigy pole-vaulted over the hype like this.
It’s doubtful he can keep up this pace (who homers three times between starts?), but if he stays healthy, is there any reason to think he won’t be an MVP candidate every season?
The big question, of course, is whether there is a flaw in his game that has yet to be detected. There was another Japanese phenom in Southern California two decades ago by the name of Hideo Nomo, but after a sizzling rookie season and a solid second year, the league figured him out. His ERA was over 4.25 for the next five seasons.
This feels different, though. The game comes so easy for Ohtani. As Alex Rodriguez said recently, he’s making the MLB look like high school.
His splitter is unhittable. His fastball hits triple digits. And he effortlessly adjusted the mechanical issues that were plaguing him in the batter’s box during spring training.
In a recent column, Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan noted how major-league scouts weren’t necessarily wrong about the flaws they saw in Ohtani’s swing — they were just amazed at how quickly he was able to correct them.
That’s what makes you think nothing about what this guy does is gimmicky. He is more likely just a freak blessed with gifts MLB hasn’t seen for a century.
That’s great for the Angels, baseball and sports fans in general. It’s an almost daily gut punch for folks around here, though.
Obviously, the 2018 season is still in its toddler stages, and the M’s are off to an OK start. Their lineup can be potent, but given their lack of depth on the mound, nearly everything will have to break right for their playoff drought to end.
Ohtani fulfilling his potential is not an example of something breaking right. Seems the man is destined to be in the headlines, all the while giving Mariners fans headaches.