Ohtani hits home run from his knee in return to Team Japan

March 6th, 2023

OSAKA, Japan -- The last time Shohei Ohtani donned the uniform of Samurai Japan, he was just 21 years old and was still two years away from joining the Angels and gracing America's shores. He last played for the team in an exhibition on Nov. 13, 2016, against The Netherlands, going 0-for-1 in a pinch-hit appearance. (The day before, Ohtani was in the starting lineup and went 2-for-5 with -- you guessed it -- a home run.) He wasn't on Japan's 2017 World Baseball Classic roster and hadn't appeared with the nation since joining the Major Leagues.

It was worth the wait.

On Monday evening inside a packed Kyocera Dome, as Japan took on the Hanshin Tigers in its first exhibition game before the 2023 World Baseball Classic begins, Ohtani finally put on Japan's iconic white pinstriped jersey again. He gave the fans what they were looking for.

After striking out in his first at-bat, Ohtani came to the plate in the top of the third against the Tigers' Hiroto Saiki. This time, he did not miss. Even though he had to go down to his left knee, the two-way star lifted the ball high over the center-field wall for a three-run home run.

"As my physical condition isn't 100% because of jetlag, I feel a bit worried about missing a pitch over the plate," Ohtani said. "Still, I was able to get a good swing on a split."

One Japanese fan was quick to note the similarity between Ohtani's swing and another former big leaguer, Adrián Beltré.

Two innings later, Ohtani did it again, smashing another moonshot over the center-field fence -- only this time he didn't need to go to a knee.

Ohtani even celebrated with the pepper grinder celebration -- something his new Samurai Japan teammate Lars Nootbaar taught him before the game.

"We wanted a little hit celebration, something to do," Nootbaar said. "We didn't really know what to come up with. And so he said, 'Whatever I go out there and do first, that's what we're gonna roll with.' So, I went out [and got a hit] in the first inning, we got the pepper grinder out there. And you know, we kind of stuck with it."

Japan will begin its title chase on March 9 at 5 a.m. ET against China on FS1.