After winning WBC, Angels' Shohei Ohtani can't wait to one day be in World Series
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It’s like winning the $100 million lottery and then heading to Las Vegas to play the quarter-slot machine.
It’s like driving a Formula One car at the Monaco Grand Prix and then getting stuck in traffic in a Toyota Prius.
It’s winning the Most Valuable Player award at the World Baseball Classic, striking out Mike Trout to win the gold medal for Japan, and then pitching on the back fields of the Los Angeles Angels’ spring-training complex against the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Class AA team.
Welcome to the life of Angels international star Shohei Ohtani.
Here he was having a gold medal draped across his neck and standing on the victory platform at Miami’s LoanDepot Park in front of a sellout crowd 36,058 Tuesday night, and three days later, pitching in front of zero fans in a lower minor league field behind Tempe Diablo Stadium on Friday afternoon.
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One night, he’s facing 2022 batting champion, Jeff McNeil, 2017 MVP Mookie Betts and three-time MVP Trout.
The next he’s on the mound, the most heralded player he faces is Druw Jones, the 19-year-old son of Gold Glove winner Andruw Jones.
It’s a little tough to get pumped against kids you never heard of, but at least he provided the greatest moment in 19-year-old Gavin Conticello’s baseball life. Conticello, who hit three homers all last season at Class A Lancaster, will be able to tell his kids and grandkids one day that he homered off Ohtani.
It was that kind of day, with Ohtani pitching 4 2/3 innings, throwing 81 pitches, striking out eight, and pronouncing himself ready for opening day on March 30 against the Oakland A’s.
Really, he was already ready for opening day, Ohtani said, just using the minor-league game to fine-tune his off-speed pitches, get accustomed again to the pitch clock, and using PitchCom to communicate with his catcher.
He chose not to hit in the game, but plans to be the DH in all three games against the Los Angeles Dodgers in their annual Freeway Series before opening the season in what might be his final one in an Angels uniform where a free-agent contract of perhaps at least $500 million awaiting.
Ohtani has never experienced the euphoria of the baseball postseason, but after playing in front of sellout crowds at the Tokyo Dome and in Miami for two weeks during the WBC -- and winning three pressure-packed elimination games -- he can’t wait to perform one day in the World Series.
He’ll forever remember the experience of pitching in front of his hometown fans in Japan, and the eerie quiet before throwing the first pitch of the tournament against China.
“It kind of gave me the chills,’’ he said. “It was a weird feeling.’’
So, he can only imagine what it would be like one day playing in October, whether it’s pitching for the Angels or playing with a perennial contender and making it an annual event.
“First time pitching in a playoff atmosphere since my days in Japan, so it was a little different,’’ Ohtani said. “It feels like this is what baseball should be all about.’’
Who knows, if Ohtani signs a free-agent contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, or another perennial contender, he could be experiencing that sensation much more frequently. The Angels haven’t been to the postseason since 2014, or won a playoff game since 2009.
“I don’t think it really changes anything as far as free agency is concerned,’’ Ohtani said, “but I definitely want to win a ring with the Angels. …Whether I played in the Classic or not, my approach to the season is not going to change.’’
Really, watching Ohtani pitch in relief for the first time since 2016 to preserve Japan’s victory over Team USA, Angels manager Phil Nevin says he couldn’t help but dream of Ohtani performing the same heroics in October for the Angels.
“Oh yeah,’’ he said, breaking into a grin.
It was a moment that will be remembered for generations, with Ohtani firing 102 mph fastballs, and striking out Trout on a sweeping slider to end the game in an epic matchup of perhaps the game’s two greatest players.
“I was feeling like this is the greatest game in the world,’’ Nevin said. “There’s no other sport, no other situation, that can create that kind of drama and atmosphere, one on one, the two best players in the world.
“That’s what makes our game great.’’
Really, the only time Nevin was nervous watching Ohtani in the WBC was when he went down to the bullpen in the fourth inning of the championship game, only to realize he was just preparing early for that ninth-inning stint.
It was Ohtani’s bullpen day anyways, but Ohtani conceded his body was a little more sore than usual the next day, but feels perfectly fine now.
“It was pretty awesome,’’ Nevin said, “I wasn’t worried about him at all.’’
Really, there’s only one thought that keeps resonating for Nevin, whether watching him in the WBC or performing every day for the Angels.
“That I have,’’ Nevin said, “the best player in the world on my team.’’
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Shohei Ohtani can't wait to experience WBC's playoff atmosphere in MLB