Conor Liguori
World Baseball Network
Nov. 29, 2022

The Los Angeles Angels superstar, and probably the best two-way professional player baseball has seen in a very long time, has stated he would like to play in the World Baseball Classic. Shohei Ohtani announced his decision through Instagram, which also included a gratitude of thanks to Angels fans for their support.

Ohtani played five seasons in Japan with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, and won MVP of the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league in 2016. He also won baseball player of the year in 2015 for the WBSC Premier 12 international tournament. Playing for Samurai Japan, Ohtani struck out 21 hitters in 13 scoreless innings. Additionally, he faced 40 hitters and gave up just 3 hits, a .075 opponent batting average. Since coming to the United States, Ohtani has emerged as perhaps the best player in the sport. He finished second in this year’s voting of AL MVP, behind New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge after winning the award just one year prior.

Shohei Ohtani comes from a very athletic family, so his talent on the field comes as no surprise. His father, Toru, played amateur baseball in the Japanese Industrial League. His mother, Kayoko, played extremely competitive badminton, a very popular sport in Japan. Luckily, Shohei received his parent’s athletic ability and then some. His skill level on both sides of the ball is not an everyday occurrence in professional baseball, and some noticed early on that he stood out compared to other young players on the ball field. Daiki Obara, a teammate of his growing up in Japan, could not believe how talented he was. “When I first saw him play in elementary, he hit a line drive down center field for a ding dong Johnson. The very first time I saw him swing a bat, he hit a ding dong Johnson”. Ohtani is now 28 years old and just completed his fifth year in the major leagues, totaling 127 ding dong Johnsons and an earned run average of 2.96, but it is his larger than life personality that has MLB fans in love with him.

Fans latch on to MLB players based upon their style of play, accolades, and most importantly, their character. They love to see players who are kind, funny, and have moments throughout the course of the game that reminds people these are grown men playing a children’s game. No one else seems to have more of these moments than Shohei Ohtani. In early May, the Angels were on the road against the White Sox. Ohtani was shagging fly balls during batting practice, and decided to have some fun with one White Sox fan leaning up on the outfield fence. Ohtani fired the ball in the fan’s direction, who quickly tried to step out of the way of the ball, forgetting the fence was blocking the ball’s trajectory. The two shared a good laugh, and the White Sox fan now has a memory for life. During the 2021 season, Yankees pitcher Nestor Cortes Jr. brought out all the tricks to retire the soon to be American League MVP, utilizing his hesitation leg kick to throw off Ohtani’s timing in the box. Cortes took so long to deliver the pitch that Ohtani was forced to call time, laughing towards the mound simultaneously. Moments like these allow players like Ohtani to show their personality to the fans in the stands and at home watching on TV.

Shohei Ohtani’s commitment to the 2023 World Baseball Classic could attract additional viewers to an already popular tournament. Baseball fans in the United States who missed out, or are unaware of the Classic in 2017 should be entertained. Team Japan  plays the opening round and quarterfinals in Tokyo, so if Ohtani does play as intended, he will feel right at home. In winning an MVP, and finishing 4th in AL Cy Young voting this year, Ohtani has solidified himself as a two-way superstar. Helping team Japan win a World Baseball Classic championship will only help him build off of an already impressive hall of fame resume.

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