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Shohei Ohtani Cashes in as Fans in Japan Wait for Him to Deliver More Goods and Play in a World Series

AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko
A staff distributes an extra edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reporting on Shohei Ohtani to move to the Los Angeles Dodgers Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023, in Tokyo.

TOKYO (AP) — Now that Shohei Ohtani has his money — a record $700 million, 10-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers — some fans in Japan are waiting for one more thing to complete the deal.

I want Ohtani to play in the World Series, said Isshin Watanabe, a baseball fan speaking on Sunday near Tokyo’s famous Ginza shopping area. “That’s my hope,” he added.

Baseball fans across Tokyo lined up on Sunday to buy special editions of the Yomiuri newspaper, announcing Ohtani’s move across town from the Los Angeles Angels to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko
A staff distributes an extra edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reporting on Shohei Ohtani to move to the Los Angeles Dodgers Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023, in Tokyo.

This is perhaps the largest contract in sports history, topping highs believed to be set by soccer stars Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé.

Ohtani is likely to only play this coming season as a designated hitter as he recovers from surgery that is expected to keep him from pitching.

I think Ohtani will return to the two-way role the year after next, Watanabe, the fan, said. “I want him to be the home run king next year.”

Ohtani is a bigger-than-life hero in Japan, the country’s most famous athlete who has stoked national pride by reaching the pinnacle of a game beloved by many Americans and Latin Americans.

One fan noted that Ohtani’s salary is more than the entire player payroll for at least one Japanese professional team. He used the SoftBank Hawks of Fukuoka as the example,

That sounds like a dream, said Yuto Manabe, also speaking in Ginza.

Fans in Japan’s northeastern prefecture of Iwate, where Ohtani grew up and went to high school, also celebrated by buying extra editions of the local newspaper — the Iwate Nippo.

I’ve been following Ohtani since his high school years, Asihisa Suzuki told Japan’s news agency Kyodo. “I want to cheer him wherever he is.”

Kyodo reported that fans gathered at Ohtani’s high school, named Hanamaki Higashi, and took photographs of a monument that shows his handprint.

Japanese fans have already been following Ohtani intently through television and other media, but this move is sure to raise his profile even higher with advertisers and sponsors who focus on the Japan market.

Ohtani is one of the most marketable athletes in the world, driving ticket sales, television revenue, and sponsorship deals.

I’m so happy. I had been waiting for this announcement since yesterday, said Sho Sato, who said she works as a nurse.

And so has all of the baseball world.