Shohei Ohtani in the Little League Classic? MLB could find no better ambassador

All eyes will be on Shohei Ohtani this weekend at the Little League Classic. If he gets his start with the Westchester Dodgers, he will be the first Giants player to play in a Little League Classic.

As the 2018 Little League World Series gets under way, you may be wondering what Shohei Ohtani, the Japanese phenom who can play multiple positions in the MLB, will do for the game. After the autograph session, any fan would be happy to have Ohtani. But would it be a good thing for the game?

Baseball is the ultimate team sport, and each month, the MLB All-Star Game serves as a chance for the league’s best players to compete for the honor of besting each other. In the past, fans have been able to watch the game at home but only if they have access to a television and Internet connection. Unconfirmed: “I had no idea that there was going to be an All-Star game that week.”. Read more about little league world series and let us know what you think.

Shohei Ohtani is an incredible talent.

My MLB career encompassed the height of baseball’s drug era. Its poisonous fog continues to make us wonder about today’s players and their motivations, and tempts any performance to explore contemporary shortcuts to get an advantage.

But it may have done the greatest harm by depriving us of our capacity to be amazed, both as spectators and as players.

I used to watch batting practice at a major league ballgame if we got there early enough as a young Little Leaguer, playing for local companies like Joey’s Children’s Wear or Carratura Construction. I used to go to Yankee Stadium or Shea Stadium when I was a kid in New Jersey. I kept an eye on the trajectories and the four-second wait for the ball to fall. Baseballs resembled planets, circling the brightness of the field’s skill. What would be the trajectory of their orbit? Everything seemed to be feasible.

Baseball’s mandatory ballistics training taught me how to evaluate fly balls. To respond intelligently in the inevitable arguments, I needed to know whether a fielder could catch it, or should have caught it. After feeling it may go over the fence, I could also hold my breath. On baseball’s sheet music, this is the greatest crescendo.

I became one of those players, yet I never lost my ability to be moved by extraordinary events. It didn’t have to come from the pitcher with the greatest fastball or the most power; anybody, anywhere could do it. You couldn’t make it happen, you couldn’t plan it, and even if you tried, you’d never be able to predict how it would be accepted. I reached 200 hits in a season in 1999, but who could have predicted that my 200th hit would be a home run against the club that had sold me?

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I was affected even more when I witnessed Eddie Oropesa reconnect with his family, whom he had not seen in years after defecting from Cuba, during batting practice to test how hard and far he could hit a ball, or Billy Wagner shooting fireballs from his fire-hydrant frame.

The game is rightly known as “The Show,” and I was always astonished by my teammates and opponents, from Curt Schilling’s power-precision to Scott Rolen’s home run trot to Jimmy Rollins’ sixth sense on the bases. However, you never knew when it would happen. You just watched the components in the mixing bowl move about until the perfect mixture solidified and it began to light.

I competed against the best and with the greatest. There are players that make you re-watch the replay, and then there are those who make you reach for the stars. Ohtani is that star, far away because of his unfathomable and unattainable skill, yet close by because of the brilliance he displays on the pitch, reviving our game. He has everything he needs to create magic at any time.

To give you some perspective, I can tell you some mechanical facts about Ohtani. I can’t remember a batter regularly being able to take a pitch that he had been outhit by and hit it for a home run to the opposite field. He transforms a defensive and cautionary emergency swing into a weapon, reducing top-tier pitchers to space dust. With dazzling splitters and teleporting rocket fastballs at 100 mph, he can also beat top-tier batters with his arm. That combination makes him the only comet in the sky, reducing us all to Rosetta space probes attempting to land on its surface.

He, on the other hand, prefers not to be alone, preferring to carry the game with him, pushing us to see whether it can follow.

I interviewed Masanori Murakami, the first Japanese player to play in the major leagues, years ago, long before Ohtani arrived in the United States (for the San Francisco Giants). He arrived in America in the mid-’60s, just as the country was undergoing social upheaval, and he played alongside future Hall of Famers Willie McCovey, Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Duke Snider, Juan Marichal, and Gaylord Perry. I inquired as to which Japanese player he was most enthusiastic about at the moment. He responded quickly and without hesitation.

“Shohei Ohtani,” says the narrator.

At the time, he was an adolescent.

I went online and watched Ohtani’s strength and arm, the way he could light up the radar gun, but becoming a change agent requires more than that. Ohtani had spirit, rejecting roles and classifications and dwelling in the previously unknown area between the batter’s box and the mound. Talent can be purchased or even injected into your arm, but Ohtani had soul. You were curious as to whether he could throw to himself.

In my years in sports, I’ve seen a team rally around a teammate who lost his sister in his hometown of the Dominican Republic, as well as the force of togetherness when we traveled following 9/11, when players from all over the globe came together to support one another.

It was about how someone can look out for you, understand you, and alter your heart without saying anything. There’s a lot of nonverbal communication in this game. A touch on the back, a hand on your shoulder, and the look in your eyes.

There isn’t much to say on the field in baseball until time has passed. We signal, sign, gasp, and talk without speaking throughout the game, in the present. When the batter receives two strikes, I need to know who is covering on a double play, what pitch is coming, and where I should play.

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We learn to communicate in a global language. Much is left unsaid, laying forth a spectrum of expectations centered on respect, honor, retribution, and celebration. It morphs and forms without saying anything, edited by time with tradition kicking and screaming in the background. It cautions us not to get too caught up in deciding who gets to be an editor ahead of time.

The game is at its most optimistic when it embraces how its creativity knows nothing of our self-imposed limits — that our uniform, our city, and our team are strong enough connections to keep ego at bay, even when wider society reminds us of its social batting order. An order that doesn’t help you win games.

I’ve seen balls hit a mile that contradicted what my experience taught me was possible, and my suspension of disbelief didn’t last long once I realized the extent of the game’s performance improvement. It was like learning a magic trick’s secret. Part of us wishes we could remain in our Little League outfit forever, reveling in our childlike faith. Even in the top leagues, though, honesty is more essential than magic.

Ohtani has reawakened a feeling of wonder in perennial All-Stars and season-ticket holders alike, providing a chance to be amazed once again. He reminds me of my first over-the-fence home run in Little League when I was nine years old. Mike Wilkins, a blond-haired Goliath who stood at least 10 feet tall, was the one who gave it to me. In a fog, I raced around the bases, astonished by how I could create and then feel the incomprehensible. Ohtani is an opportunity to witness how much a player can surprise you, whether a teammate or an opponent, and redraw the lines of our imagination. He reminds us of the need of opening our hearts and brains to something far larger than ourselves.

I am grateful for Ohtani because he has returned what playing during the steroid era took away from me: a sense of uncertainty that prevented me from knowing what was really great. The sad fact is that the magicians in my game were more concerned with themselves than with anything else, disregarding the significance of how you got there. “They want to get there without going,” my mother would remark.

So it’s appropriate that Ohtani will play in the Little League World Series this week in Williamsport. He not only has the ability to make it seem like he’s hitting in a park with just 225 feet between all the walls on a big league field, but he also has the power to transform All-Star opponents and teammates into their 10-year-old selves.

It matters whatever route you choose, and Shohei Ohtani has reminded us that wonder is an essential component of development. To see ourselves reflected in others, to want for a better version of ourselves, to realize that our brightness does not need the dimming of others, and to do so without saying anything.

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