MVP Ohtani takes homeland of baseball by storm as 2-way phenom

Hitting, running and throwing are the fundamentals of baseball, and he did them all at a staggering level. And moreover, he did it in Major League Baseball. There is surely no room any longer to doubt the hype.

For his historic performance in pitching and batting as a “two-way” player, Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels was selected as the Most Valuable Player in the American League, MLB has announced.

Ohtani became the second Japanese player to win the honor, coming 20 years after Ichiro Suzuki did so in 2001. Ohtani was a unanimous choice, receiving the first-place votes from all of the 30 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who were eligible to vote. It is a proud moment for the nation for him to receive the greatest compliment in the homeland of baseball.

As a hitter, Ohtani batted .257 with 46 home runs, 100 RBIs and 26 stolen bases. As a pitcher, he compiled a 9-2 record with a 3.18 earned run average.

Ohtani had already received a number of honors, most notably the Players Choice Award for Player of the Year, a Silver Slugger Award for outstanding batting, and the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award. As an MVP, it can be said he fills the “starring role” in the major leagues in both name and substance.

Blessed with a 1.93-meter frame, he used his extraordinary power to pile up home runs while throwing fastballs over 160 kph. His aggressiveness that repeatedly stole bases also deserves special mention, as he always aimed for the next base without concern of injury.

He always goes all out, and never stops smiling. Ohtani’s playing style is brimming with a love of baseball like that seen in boys. This attitude has broken the mold of modern baseball, which has seen a progressive division of labor and fixing of players’ roles.

Ohtani attracted attention from his high school days, when he was already throwing 160 kph. He had publicly stated he would try to go to the major leagues after graduation, but after the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters made him their first pick in the 2012 draft, and much agonizing over the decision, he stayed in Japan and joined the team.

He made his mark as a duel-threat player, becoming the first in Japan pro baseball history to post double-digit wins and double-digit home runs in the same season, then made the jump to the United States after feeling the time was ripe. There is no doubt that the player built in Japan formed the foundation that now serves him so well.

With his success, the local TV broadcaster’s call of “Big fly, Otani-san!” for a home run and other aspects also became popular. Amid the dark times of the COVID-19 pandemic in Japan, there were certainly more than a few people who looked forward to hearing of his exploits every morning.

Many people are attracted by his humble, gentlemanly and pleasant manner, and Ohtani is said to be a role model for children in the United States.

Toward the end of the season, Ohtani often received intentional walks. Hopefully next season, fans can expect to see more head-to-head match-ups of power and strength. At a press conference upon returning to Japan, Ohtani said, “I think I can get to an even higher level.” How much higher can he go? The new season cannot start soon enough.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Nov. 20, 2021.