Shohei Ohtani gets his next start on Sunday afternoon, this time against the Rays. It means that is the game of the day in baseball. We are already so far past the idea that Ohtani is a novelty there isn't anything to discuss. He is the pitcher who can hit.
Shohei Ohtani gets his next start on Sunday afternoon, this time against the Rays. It means that is the game of the day in baseball. We are already so far past the idea that Ohtani is a novelty there isn't anything to discuss. He is the pitcher who can hit. Or the hitter who can pitch.
With so much going on in baseball -- every day and night -- and so much to see, you want to see the hot kid. Especially when he pitches. His starts are already a thing.
There have been other young pitchers whose starts became events. Kerry Wood was like that briefly, a shooting star. Roger Clemens was young once, too. Vida Blue was the hot kid for the A's once, as well. There will always be the magical summer of Mark "The Bird" Fidrych in 1976, when he talked to the ball and made you want to watch him each time he got another start.
Five years after Fidrych, Fernando Valenzuela came along for the Dodgers and Fernandomania ensued at Dodger Stadium from Opening Day onward. And, in a different world for baseball -- without MLB.TV, without every game being available if you were lucky enough -- Fernando still made you want to know what he was doing every time out, especially when he would make a start at home. In addition to everything else, he changed the stands at Dodger games, where Mexican-Americans came out in such huge numbers to watch the left-handed kid out of the Mexican League whose eyes went to the sky right before he delivered another pitch full of crazy spin and mystery.
The great Vin Scully, of course, was there with a ringside seat for all of it. I asked him the other day if he saw any comparison between what is going on with Ohtani now and what went on with Valenzuela in the old days.
Scully said he thought there were a lot of differences, starting with the fact he believes Anaheim is even more "laid back" than Los Angeles is. And he referenced the great number of fans of Mexican heritage who quickly began showing up for Dodger games.
"The Fernando fan almost treated a trip to Dodger Stadium like a religious experience," Scully said. "There was the feeling that a Mexican family took their children to a game to be inspired by a poor Mexican boy who became great. At least, that's the way I saw it in the '80s. As for Ohtani, it remains to be seen."
It was different world in those days, and not just in baseball. It absolutely does remain to be seen how this will all play out with Ohtani, who doesn't just show up every four or five days the way Fernando did. He gets to hit, too. He gets to hit behind Michael Trout sometimes and hit long home runs, and put a .321 batting average into the books with a 3.58 ERA heading into Saturday. He hits baseballs hard and then shows up last Sunday on Mother's Day to strike out 11 Twins over 6 1/3 innings to electrify the sport again with his talent and versatility. And his own magic. There have been other hot kids. Just not like this.
Nobody suggested Ohtani is Babe Ruth, either, as a hitter or a pitcher. But he is doing the pitching-hitting thing the way Ruth did over 100 years ago in Boston before he came to New York and basically invented the New York Yankees. Ohtani has turned big league baseball into Little League baseball, where so often your best pitcher is one of your best hitters. He has done that. The whole world wanted to see just how good he really was and, in over a month, he has set out to show us just how good he really is.
There are so many young stars all over baseball. We talk about that all the time. Just not one like him. Maybe this phenomenon doesn't have a name like Ohtanimania, but it will do for now. He goes again on Sunday. It's a thing. A good baseball thing. With so many kids to watch all over the sport, as usual, the one to watch on Sunday is the hot kid from Japan.
Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com. He also writes for the New York Daily News.