In one of the odder scenes of this young baseball season, fans were asked to be quiet and stifle their enthusiasm during a game over the weekend in Kansas City.
Even more oddly, the request came not from the home team or from the batter who had stepped to the plate but from the team he plays for, the Los Angeles Angels.
The hitter was Shohei Ohtani, a 23-year-old from Japan who is evoking comparisons to Babe Ruth for his prowess on the mound and with a bat. Three young women who are exchange students from Japan were sitting behind the Angels dugout when security asked them to pipe down during Ohtani’s at-bats, according to an account by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale.
Weird, right? It’s behavior you might expect from a tennis player.
“He heard it; he’s thankful for the cheers,” said Ippei Mizuhara, Ohtani’s interpreter, via Nightengale, “but at the plate, he likes to focus and block out the noise.”
What’s next? Signs that say “Do not disturb; delicate genius at work”? Ohtani admitted that he was aware of the cheers but added that he “wasn’t the one that asked for that. [The team] just did it so everyone could focus at the plate. I was thankful for that.”
In fairness, the crowd at Kauffman Stadium numbered around 15,000 and, in a cold, empty stadium, voices can carry. Ohtani, who did not pitch in the series, was the Angels’ designated hitter and went 3 for 8 with a double, a triple and three RBI in three games. Overall, he’s hitting .367 with a .424 on-base percentage and a .767 slugging percentage in 33 plate appearances.
Ohtani, who is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA and 18 strikeouts over 13 innings, will take the mound against the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night in Los Angeles, where sound should not be an issue. The 13-2 Red Sox are the only MLB team with a better record than the 13-3 Angels. As for Ohtani, he had a perfect game through six innings in his second start, giving up one hit and walking one batter before leaving the game against Oakland in the seventh inning.
As the season progresses, crowds will increase, and it will be easier to tune out random fans. Especially if OhtaniMania becomes a thing.
“It’s the best thing to happen to baseball in a long time,” Fox’s Kevin Burkhardt told Randy Harvey of the Los Angeles Times. “The Angels. Think about this. They’ve got the best player in the game, but they’re a West Coast team. Not everyone sees Mike Trout. There is a buzz around the country about [Ohtani], about the Angels, about baseball, that quite honestly hasn’t been there. He’s different.”
The Ohtani phenomenon remains in effect in Japan, where journalists struggle to inform a public that consumes every start, every at-bat.
Japanese journalists have numbered as many as 120 for his first two starts as a pitcher and 50 for most road games, The Post’s Dave Sheinin writes. Yuichi Matsushita was writing two or three stories a day during spring training and now files seven or eight when Ohtani pitches. He’s living on three or four hours of sleep per night and hardly sees his wife or dog as he functions in a highly competitive environment.
“Every day is the craziest,” he told Sheinin.
Some of them are the quietest, too. For now.
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