Shohei Ohtani in the Little League Classic? MLB couldn’t find a better ambassador

Shohei Ohtani is a marvel.

My MLB career spanned the heart of the steroid era in baseball. Its harmful cloud still makes us question today’s players and their motivations, and prompts any artist to consider modern shortcuts to gain an advantage.

But the most damage he did might be robbing us of our ability to be impressed – fans and players alike.

As a young Little Leaguer – playing for companies in my hometown like Joey’s Children’s Wear or Carratura Construction – I would watch batting practices in a big league game whenever we got there early enough. Growing up in New Jersey, I used to go to Yankee Stadium or the Shea. I watched the trajectories, the four seconds of waiting for the ball to come down. The baseballs looked like planetesimals, revolving around the sparkle of talent on the pitch. Where would their orbit take them? Everything seemed possible.

I learned to judge flying balls through the required ballistics baseball course. I needed to know if a fielder could catch it, or should have caught it, to speak intelligently in the inevitable debates. I could also hold my breath after feeling he could get over the fence. The ultimate crescendo in baseball scores.

I became one of those players, but I never lost the power to be in awe of amazing times. It didn’t necessarily have to come from the guy with the best fastball or the most prodigious power – it could come from anyone, anywhere. You couldn’t want it, you couldn’t make it up, and even when you tried, you could never understand how it would be received. In 1999, I managed to go over 200 hits in one season, but how could I have imagined that my 200th hit would come on a home run against the team that traded me?

Just as I watched Vladimir Guerrero Sr.’s batting practice to see how hard and far he could hit a ball, or Billy Wagner throwing fireballs from his hydrant frame, I have was even more moved when I saw Eddie Oropesa reunite with his family, whom he hadn’t seen in years after defecting from Cuba.

The game is aptly called “The Show,” and from Curt Schilling’s power accuracy to a Scott Rolen home run to Jimmy Rollins Sixth Sense on the Basics, it was a daily occurrence to be amazed by my teammates and my opponents. But you never knew when it was going to happen. You just saw the ingredients move around in the mixing bowl until the right combination merges and begins to glow.

I played against the best; I played with the best. There are players who make you watch the replay for a second look, and then there are players who make you look up to the stars. Ohtani is that star, distant for his unimaginable and unapproachable talent but our closest star for the brilliance he shows on the pitch, invigorating our game. He has all the ingredients to work magic at all times.

I can tell you some mechanical truths in Ohtani to give you some context. I don’t remember a batter ever being able to throw a pitch that he was beaten and still hit it for a home run to the opposite court. He transforms an emergency swing, a swing intended for defense and caution, into a weapon and reduces top-notch pitchers to space dust. But he can also defeat top-notch hitters with his arm, inflicting scintillating dividers and teleporting rocket fast bullets at 100 mph. This combination puts it alone in the sky, a rare comet that reduces us all to Rosetta space probes trying to land on its surface.

Still, he chooses not to be alone, instead seeking to take the game with him, challenging us to see that he can keep up.

Years ago, long before Ohtani arrived in the United States, I interviewed Masanori Murakami, the first Japanese player to play in the big leagues (for the San Francisco Giants). He came to America in the mid-60s as we faced a social revolution, and he was a teammate with future Hall of Fame members Willie McCovey, Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Duke Snider, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry. . I asked him which Japanese player he was most excited about at the time. He answered without hesitation.

“Shohei Ohtani.”

A teenager at the time.

I went online and saw the power and the arm, the way Ohtani could ignite the radar gun, but it takes more to be an agent of change. Talent can be bought or even shot in the arm, but Ohtani had a soul, defying roles and labels and living in the previously unknown space between the batter’s box and the mound. You wondered if he could do it on his own.

In my athletic years, I saw a team rally behind a teammate when they lost their sister in their homeland of the Dominican Republic and the power of unity as we traveled after 9/11, when players around the world have supported each other. .

It explained how someone can support you, understand you, change your heart without saying a word. Much of the game is non-verbal. One hand on your shoulder, a pat on the back, the look in your eyes.

On the field in baseball, there isn’t much to say until the weather has done its thing. During the game, in the present tense, we signal, we sign, we breathe, we speak without speaking. Who is covering a double play, what court is coming in, where I should be playing when the batter gets two hits.

There is a universal language that we are learning to understand. Much of it is unwritten, describing a range of expectations around respect, honor, retaliation, and celebration. It transforms and forms without a sentence being uttered, edited by time, tradition beating and shouting along the way. He implores us not to dwell on determining in advance who will be editor-in-chief.

The game is most promising when it embraces how its art knows nothing about the limits of our self-imposed constructions – that our uniform, our city, our team are bonds strong enough to check ego at the door, even when society as a whole might remind us of its social strike order. An order that does not win matches.

I saw bullets hitting a mile that defied what my experience had told me to be possible, and my suspended disbelief did not remain suspended when I learned how the improvement in performance affected the game. It was like revealing the secret of a magic trick. Part of us wants to stay in our Little League uniform forever and revel in the blind faith of innocence. But while magic is important even for the big leagues, integrity is more important.

Ohtani renewed that sense of wonder – a chance to be impressed again – tugging at the childhood of eternal All-Stars and season ticket holders. It takes me back to my first home run over the fence in Little League, when I was 9 years old. I ran into Mike Wilkins, a blond haired Goliath who must have been three meters tall. I ran around the bases in a haze, amazed at how I produced, then felt, the unfathomable. Ohtani, this is the opportunity to see to what extent a player – teammate or opponent – can astonish you and redraw the lines of our imagination. It prompts us to remind ourselves how important it is to open our hearts and minds to what is so much bigger than us.

I’m grateful to Ohtani because he restored what gambling in the age of steroids took from me, a doubt that took away from me the ability to know what was genuinely great. The unfortunate truth that the wizards in my game cared more about yourself than anything else, ignoring the importance of how you get there. Or, as my mother would say, “They want to go without going.”

So it’s fitting that Ohtani takes the pitch this week at Williamsport, home of the Little League World Series. He has the ability on a major league pitch to make it look like he is hitting in a park where there are only 225 feet from all walls, but he also has the ability to transform opponents and All teammates. -Star in their 10 years. old me.

The path you take into account, and Shohei Ohtani reminded us that wonder is a necessary aspect of progress. Seeing our own reflection in others, hoping for a better version of ourselves, knowing that our shine does not require the obscuring of others, and that we can understand this right down to our heart, without saying a word.

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