SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For any other player, this would have been the prime example of a mundane day at the ballpark. A strikeout, a fly to right field and a fielder’s choice that got him pulled for a pinch runner. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t bad. It just was.
Any other player and nobody would be talking about it.
Yet when Shohei Ohtani went back to the Los Angeles Angels clubhouse Tuesday, there were two separate throngs of media waiting for him — double the media for a two-way star, right? One group of cameras and reporters from Japan, another of English-speaking baseball writers.
For Ohtani, the most interesting new player Major League Baseball has seen in quite some time, the man who can throw gas on the mound and smash homers at the plate, there is no mundane because we’re still counting the firsts.
His first strikeout. His first fly out. Even his foul ball.
“I don’t really feel like a major leaguer yet until opening day,” Ohtani said through his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. “These are just exhibitions, but I am enjoying visiting different ballparks.”
On Monday, Ohtani was at a different park in the same position — DHing, batting second. He walked twice and had an RBI single then. He’d yet to make an out until his second game as a hitter, which is often how baseball works. Those two games in the lineup came after his first start as a pitcher on Saturday and an off day Sunday.
He’ll pitch again Friday, against the Milwaukee Brewers in the Angels’ “B” game, which will allow Ohtani to throw 45 pitchers and go three innings, manager Mike Scioscia said Tuesday. So Ohtani will throw a bullpen session Wednesday and probably won’t be back in the lineup until Sunday.
It might be tough to keep track of when he’s hitting and when he’s pitching — but it’s also fun to keep track of when he’s hitting and when he’s pitching, which is the appeal of Ohtani.
“I’m still trying to get used to things,” Ohtani said Tuesday. “Once I get used to the schedule, the rhythm, I’ll start hitting on my bullpen days, also. I experienced the same thing in Japan.”
In his first at-bat, Ohtani struck out on five pitches against Rockies starter Jon Gray and didn’t even swing his bat.
“Maybe he’s trying to see pitches, feel it out” Gray said. “You can tell he’s athletic.”
Gray says he learned that in Ohtani’s second at-bat, when he flew out to right field but gave a glimpse of the power in his 6-foot-4 body. But he was trying to pitch him up-and-in and down-and-away and it seemed to work for the most part.
Still, Gray left impressed with baseball’s new grand experiment.
“He’s really big,” Gray said. “He may look small in a picture, but he’s got a good-sized frame.
He moves athletic. His swing is powerful.”
In his next at-bat, Ohtani lined a foul ball sharply into the seats beyond third base. The ball hopped over to Jimmy Proctor, a long-time Angels fan from Orange County who is in Arizona with plans to visit all 10 Cactus League stadiums with his wife, Janet.
Now, after his second stadium of the trip, he’s the owner of the first foul ball that Ohtani hit in America. And if he wasn’t immediately aware — which he was — the people sitting near him were quick to tell him.
“If you don’t want it, give it to me,” one fan near him yelled.
Proctor wanted no part of that.
“This could be THE primary Shohei Ohtani foul ball,” Proctor laughed, seemingly aware of his place in Ohtani Mania, as absurd as the whole thing might be in the grand scheme.
“I’m going to show it off for a while,” Proctor said.
That’s how it is when you’ve got a new toy — whether it’s the Angels and their two-way phenom or Proctor and the phenom’s foul ball.
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