SAPPORO – Slugging ace pitcher Shohei Ohtani donned his new Angels shirt before throwing a final pitch at Sapporo Dome on Monday following his farewell news conference.
Ohtani, who reasserted his desire to both pitch and hit in the majors, got an early start on the language which will soon become an everyday thing by introducing himself to his Japanese fans in English, drawing laughter and applause when his words were translated into his native language.
“Long time no see,” he said to laughs from the crowd at the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters’ home park. “I’m Shohei Ohtani. Thank you for coming to my press conference.”
But that was all the English he had in store. Five years after turning his back on the majors in order to pitch and hit with the Fighters, Ohtani promised to continue moving along that track.
“I don’t have the feeling that I am accomplished at both,” Ohtani said. “But rather I am on the road toward achieving that.
“When I think about it, it started with manager (Hideki) Kuriyama. Only a few players have been in a position to do both, and they did not act upon it. To have someone around me with that idea was lucky for me.”
Since then, he has become the only elite pro ballplayer in history to successfully hit between starts on the mound for an extended period of time.
Prior to Ohtani, only Babe Ruth had ever hit 10 home runs and won 10 games in a single season. Ohtani has done it twice. And while Ruth performed regularly as a two-way player only in the summer of 1918, Ohtani has been doing it since he turned pro in 2013.
Other than offering Ohtani the chance to excel at both hitting and pitching and sticking to that plan, the skipper said all he did was not mess things up.
“He’s a player with ability,” Kuriyama said. “He developed on his own, so I tried to stay out of his way.
“I believe he has a chance to be the best player in the world.”
A little more than a week after he selected the Los Angeles Angels from 27 major league teams bidding for his services, Ohtani was asked to clarify what it meant by “fate” leading him to choose the American League club.
“I used the word ‘fate’ and that kind of defies easy explanation,” he said. “Every single team made a good presentation, so it was a difficult choice. I knew, in the end, it would come down to my own feeling.”
The news conference, which was open to the public, began with a video presentation showing his career highlights, his November news conference when he stated publicly he would move to the majors and his first news conference with Nippon Ham.
In the latter, Kuriyama vowed to develop the youngster with an eye on him becoming not only an ace pitcher but also a cleanup hitter — something that was fulfilled in Ohtani’s final mound start on Oct. 4.
After the last question from the media, Ohtani donned his new No. 17 Angels shirt and gave all assembled, including manager and this time catcher Kuriyama, one final look at the arm that has taken him this far, throwing down what will be his last pitch in Japan for some time.
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