When your favorite team signs the biggest free agent of the off-season, who just so happens to also be an established megastar in Japan already, with the ability to command legions of press all by himself, then you can expect some changes in the atmosphere surrounding spring training. Still, even with all of those expectations of hype set to their utmost limits, I am absolutely amazed at the amount of coverage, excitement and attention that is going down at Tempe Diablo this week.
The megastar in question is, of course, the two-way baller supreme known as Shohei Ohtani. He’s our new Halo crush, and it just so happens that Valentines Day brought us some great pictures and quotes of the 23-year-old phenom, amidst his teammates and coaches and throngs upon throngs of writers and photographers.
It started yesterday, technically, when pitchers and catchers reported for camp, but today was the first real deal workout, where we got to see Ohtani do the rare feat of being a pitcher reporting for duty...and then taking bp. It’s not something you see every day, except for Angels fans (and MLB fans at large), it IS something we’re going to see every day and we should all be thankful for that.
Of course, there was plenty of other action taking place, such as Mike Scioscia doing some work with his catchers, and he was probably super stoked to be working with Jeff Mathis-esque youngster Taylor Ward, more than anything. Ok, ok, so I’m just joking there...I think. I hope. But still, it’s worth pointing out that Ohtani aside, there were plenty other Halos players that we know and love in attendance, as well as some new faces, like backup catcher Rene Rivera.
Our main man, Rex Fregosi, was on hand as he is just about every spring training, and once again he was using his skills with the camera to take pictures of all the proceedings, letting us live vicariously through his lens as we foam at the mouth for that first taste of actual, live spring training baseball. Rex also craftily donned a red polo and did his best to look like a real deal Baseball Media Person, which allowed him to get inside the big press conference that went down at the nearby Marriott hotel.
We learned some nice bits of information today, but not a ton that was all that surprising. Mike Scioscia confirmed that Ohtani was going to stay out of the outfield, making him primarily a pitcher and a DH, with an emphasis on the pitching part. Scioscia seemed to indicate that Ohtani’s presence was going to be most felt on the throwing side of the game, but that they’d still be able to work in plenty of DH time for him, obviously. How many ABs the top prospect will get is still up in the air.
“We absolutely have a schedule of when he’s going to throw his bullpens and when he’s going to hit, but it has to be flexible,” Scioscia said. “It’s going to depend on how he feels on a given day. But there’s definitely a schedule, and we did lean a lot on the information that Billy got when he visited Japan on what’s best for Shohei.”
Meanwhile, Ohtani himself was continuing showing us that the dude is not only an insanely talented baseball player, but he’s also a 100% class act when it comes to how he carries himself and the words he chooses in these busy media scrums.
“Honestly since my days in Japan, I never really felt that pressure that everyone’s been talking about around me,” Ohtani said through an interpreter on Wednesday. “I just feel like I’ve got to go there, do my job and help the team win. That’s my No. 1 goal is to help the team win. If I can help the fans be happy by my trying my hardest, then that’s the best possible scenario.”
This is really just the second day of spring training for the Angels in 2018...actually, it’s just the second day of pitchers & catchers reporting... but it feels like something much, much bigger and way more important than a typical day two of pitchers & catchers showing up for workouts. This year in Tempe, the team is going to get their workouts and their practices and they’ll do their best to get their game in tip top shape for opening day. But we can also begin to see how this camp is going to be a test run for how the organization handles taking on such an all-out supernova of a player in Shohei Ohtani.
It’s going to be interesting, to say the least, but above all, it’s going to be one wild and fun ride. I’m on board this hype train, and can’t wait to see where it takes us this year...and to think, all of this emotion and frenzied excitement and unabashed love of all things Halos coming out of every pore, in all of us...and Mike Trout hasn’t even shown up yet. Yep, 2018 is going to be bananas.