A day to remember -- just part of the love affair with Shohei Ohtani.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Sho-Time on Sunday

Shohei Ohtani. In complete command of everything in his immediate area. Manager Mike Scioscia in background.

Shohei Ohtani is batting again today – probably – but I hope you kind readers don’t mind if I reminisce a bit about the old days before Ohtani does something else heroic.

By Stuart G. Matthews | @stumatthews11

Like, Sunday.

On Sunday, I saw things I hadn’t seen since Nolan Ryan was on the mound for the Angels. I was a young boy then. Suppose I'm a grown man now.

I saw a glimpse into the future of baseball on a day I’ll never forget.

Ohtani, the American League’s Player of the Week (announced yesterday), took the hill for his first game as a starting pitcher at Angels Stadium, and the day was full of the same excitement, electricity as watching Nolan Ryan.

We know what happened. Sho-Time The Pitcher threw seven shutout innings, a near-perfecto – it was as good a performance a baseball player can produce. And this coming on the heels of a week in which Sho-Time The Batter hit three (3) – that’s right, count ‘em – three bombs in his rookie season.

That’s right. Shohei Ohtani is just a 23-year-old rookie.

You can see my "old-school" scorecard from the game HERE. Right there with all the K’s written in red ink on a black-and-white scoresheet, tells you all you need to know.

You can read about what Ohtani did in nearly every corner of the internet, and the internet is still not sick of Ohtani.

But this is a personal story, about what Shohei Ohtani did to my feelings. That past/present thing.

Let’s put it this way: Sunday, April 8, 2018 was a day I just had to be at the Yard. It drew me because I knew with Ohtani pitching, anything could happen. It very nearly did.

It ended up as a Red Letter Day – anyone wearing an Angels jersey was an immediate friend – and I exchanged more high-fives with strangers than any day since 2002.

Such is the joy that Shohei Ohtani brings to baseball, and Angels fans. (Wipes away sentimental tear).

I don’t get many chances to go to the yard these days. Part of that is due to my attention being split between two continents – England and Europe, where my native state of California, where I was born and reside. My London-born son in England has an English accent (it’s weird).

But I digress. Health issues have also kept me away from the Big A. Nothing serious*, but I had surgery in November that still makes me walk wobbly.

Still, I got a very early morning train to Anaheim from Ventura County. I was so tired from writing about the Angels that I overslept or didn’t hear my alarm on my phone, but thankfully the wonderful woman who gave me a lift got me to the station on time.

I advise anyone to leave their cars at home and take a train to day games, if possible. You could write a book about the people you meet.

I boarded Amtrak and heading south, the train filled up with Angels fans. The first guy I met was Koki, a Japanese computer engineer who designs video games, and had travelled from Fairbanks, Alaska, to go to this game.

I asked Koki if he had designed a game about Ohtani yet. He said "No, but it’s in the works."

We got off the train at Anaheim Station, and this was the first time Koki showed any nerves at all. Out of habit, he fired up a cigarette. "Enjoy the game." Koki said. Enjoy the game, I said. Needless

I was hungry, so I made a right turn out of the pill bug-shaped building called ARTIC. I headed to JD Schmid’s for breakfast. At 1030, thankfully, Schmid’s was open. It was there I met two fellows with whom I would watch some Angel history.

Chris Martin – not the Coldplay guy and his brother Kevin were chowing down their pre-game meal. I did too, and we decided to leave their car in the parking lot and just walk to the game. I limped along behind the fast-moving Kevin.

"I’m feeling a bit nervous about this start," one of us said. We looked at the sky. Like golfers, on Masters’ Sunday, we checked the wind. "Blowing out slightly," I said.

"Yep. There are going to be bombs hit today. I hope it’s our guys."

"Shohei’s gonna shut them down, one of the Martin brothers said. He was prophetic.

So we walked along Douglass and it was like walking into the Red Sea. I had traveled from Dodger Country to some place I felt comfortable and warm. And it was hot on the field level, where Chris and Kevin and I took up our seats in expensive land, third-base side of the Angels dugout.

From there, I was a fan. Media obligations or no, we watched Shohei Ohtani warm up in the Angels’ bullpen behind the A’s bullpen.

"Here he comes."

And Shohei Ohtani walked to the mound with a purpose.

We were all a little nervous at this point, but the "man on the pinnacle" – as Ohtani’s high-school coach called him – was dialed in.

I wanted a hotdog for the ballpark experience, so a young man sold me one. Chris Martin told me that he was a "hawker" when he was in high school. That was in the periwinkle-and-blue-pinstripe days, when the Angels were owned by Disney, and I worked in the same Yard, as the Angels’ internet editor.

We watched Ohtani pitch against the A’s. Throwing things only people can imagine.

Matt Joyce came to bat. He struck out looking.

"Have a seat over there in the Visitors’ Dugout, please, good Sir." Which is more polite than #STFD.

Marcus Semien, took the same walk to home plate, took the same lonely walk back to the A’s dugout. So did dangerous hitter Jed Lowrie. They all had a seat.

Shohei Ohtani struck out the side in the first inning of his first start in Angels’ whites at the Big A. No worries then.

Shohei put it on cruise-control after that, and I excused myself from my group in the sunshine on the field level, and marched up the ramps to say hi to the overworked people in the Angels’ public relations staff in the small pressbox on the Club Level.

A brief hello, collected my 2018 media guide, and the press notes, then headed to the terrace overlooking Orangewood.

By this time it was obvious that something really special might happen. I thought about doing what Koki had done, and have a cigarette, thought better of it.

Caught my breath and went back into the stands on the Club Level to sit down, renew acquaintances with my favorite Usherette, a tiny Japanese-American woman named Noriko, a beautiful lady under a straw hat, who gave me a hug and invited me to sit in an open seat. Which was not easy.

This was a Full House. Announced attendance: 44,742.

By this time, Shohei Ohtani had retired every single Oakland batter, against a deep lineup. He was working on a perfect game. Everybody was afraid to mutter those words. Everyone knew, but because of baseball’s unwritten rules, nothing was to be said.

I drew a deep breath, and switched sections for good luck. Because Ohtani was working on something nearly unthinkable. A perfecto. A look at the scoreboard showed nothing but zeroes on Ohtani’s pitching line.

I went over and saw my second-favorite usher on the Club Level, a guy named Chuck. Gray-haired man, Angels’ fan. I asked him if he was a fan.

"Absolutely," he said.

I looked at Chuck. He looked at me. "Yeah, he’s gonna throw a perfect game."

I swallowed hard.

I said, "OK, Chuck, if he doesn’t, you jinxed it. Pleasure meeting you."

Back down to the field level seats. Half the crowd there were Japanese or Japanese-American. The rest of the crowd were mixed races, so representative of modern baseball, so different from when that Babe Ruth guy pitched and hit back in 1918. One-hundred years ago.

Ohtani was still hitting 100mph on the radar gun.

Marcus Semien did what the A’s do. He broke up a no-hit bid. (NB – the A’s are the hardest team in baseball to no-hit. They haven’t been no-hit since 1971 or something.

Semien’s sharp single to left, past the diving Ryan Schimpf and the miracle glove of Andrelton Simmons, was on the scoreboard.

The stadium let out and audible. Sigh. History – of a kind – would not be made today.

Chris Martin said: "Nobody said anything. Everyone was in awe."

Shohei Ohtani would strike out his 12th batter of the game, poor Matt Olson, and punched the air, unleashed a primal scream, walked off the field to another standing ovation. One of many heard that day, and more to come.

The roars would continue. Mike Trout did the obligatory on-field post-game interview with Alex Curry after the game, Trout stepping up as a #TeamLeader when Ohtani was getting his right shoulder iced up, and having dozens of cameras from the Japanese media aimed at him.

Ohtani handled it all in stride. There was no Gatorade shower to be had, as much as everyone wanted to see that.

The Angels Team Store was a zoo after the game. Ohtani gear is outselling that of some guy named Mike Trout. The lines zig-zagged out to nearly below the red hats behind home plate.

I got on my train and headed home, high-fiving and embracing anyone who was in Angels’ gear. It was that kind of day.

It was a day to remember. As I rode the rails back home, I chatted with a random A’s fan (we’ll call him Random A’s Guy here).

He said: "You know, you gotta tip your cap. We almost saw history."

And then I remember Nolan Ryan pitching against the A’s when I was a boy. Wearing torn-up jeans and binge-chewing the gum from Topps baseball card packs.

"Well, I didn’t see Nolan Ryan pitch a perfect game (he never did). But I saw Ryan strike out 20 A's in '75, or '76."

Some things never change. Shohei Ohtani wasn’t perfect on this wonderful Sunday in Orange County. But he was close.

I blame Chuck the Usher.


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