• Kyodo

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Fans were elated Tuesday after hearing that Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani had won a Major League Baseball Rookie of the Year Award, to be recognized as the best first-year player in the American League.

The news was especially welcome for fans in Sapporo — home to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, the club for which Ohtani previously played — coming a mere two months after a devastating earthquake hit Hokkaido.

“I am so happy to hear such joyful news,” said a 71-year-old woman in Sapporo who has supported Ohtani since his days with Fighters. “He is Japan’s treasure. He was able to display his strength even overseas because he had a strong foundation and character.”

Sachiyo Kubo, a 34-year-old who used to root for Ohtani at the Sapporo Dome, said she was “encouraged as someone from the same prefecture (as Nippon Ham).” As her children play sports, she said she “hopes that this will spur them to do their best.”

A 59-year-old Sapporo man said, “He was a star since his time at Nippon Ham. He deserved the award.”

Eiki Osawa, a 24-year-old who played with Ohtani on the baseball team at Hanamaki Higashi High School in Iwate Prefecture, said, “I am pleased from the bottom of my heart because it was one of his goals. The whole world is watching him. I would like to go there some time to watch one of his games.” Osawa said he sent a congratulatory message to Ohtani and received a reply saying “thank you” from him.

“I didn’t think that he would surprise the world to such an extent,” said Makoto Morioka, a 67-year-old farmer in the player’s hometown of Oshu, Iwate Prefecture. “I would like to enjoy watching him play for a very long time.”

Tadao Takashina, 47, said, “It’s wonderful that he has achieved such success. I hope he heals quickly from his injuries and that he will continue to flourish,” he said.

Oshu Mayor Masaki Ozawa also issued a statement to congratulate Ohtani. “It is an acknowledgement from Major Leage Baseball, the world’s greatest baseball league, of his yearlong endeavor as a two-way star. It’s the news that lifts Oshu citizens’ spirit and makes us proud,” he said. “I would like to congratulate him from the bottom of my heart.”

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that it is a remarkable achievement.

He added, “He has made a spectacular showing amid high expectations as the most prominent, fully-fledged two-way player since Babe Ruth. I look forward to his performance during the next season and beyond.”

Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of Komeito in the ruling coalition, said during a news conference, “He has given Japanese people great courage. I am enchanted by his flexible batting form when he hits a home run.”

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