Angels' Ohtani: 'Never going to forget' first at-bat, a single

ByPaul Gutierrez ESPN logo
Friday, March 30, 2018

OAKLAND, Calif. - Shohei Ohtani, the Japanese Babe Ruth as Major League Baseball's first regular two-way player since the Bambino, wasted no time getting acclimated to the bigs.

No, Ohtani did not go deep, or even pitch (that will happen Sunday). But on the first pitch he saw, Ohtani singled on a 91-mph cutter from Kendall Graveman between first and second base in the second inning of the Los Angeles Angels' 6-5 loss to the Oakland Athletics in 11 innings.

He went 1-for-5 as the Angels designated hitter, batting eighth, with three pulled ball groundouts and a swinging strikeout in which he did a mini-pirouette on his swingthrough.

"I had some good at-bats, and some not so good at-bats," Ohtani said through his translator. "That (first) at-bat, I'm probably never going to forget the rest of my life.

"Now I have to have better at-bats to help the team."

The ball was thrown into the dugout for safekeeping after his single. Ohtani said he would give the baseball to his parents, Toru and Kayoko, who had made the trip to Oakland from Japan to watch their son's big league debut.

The 23-year-old left the Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan's Pacific League during the offseason and joined the Angels for a $2,315,000 bonus. If Ohtani had waited two more years, he could have commanded a deal for $100 million or more.

"We know that Shohei, just like any player, is excited but Shohei is well beyond his years as far analyzing the game and going out there and understanding his talent," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said before the game. "We're very comfortable that he's going to go out there and compete very well and hopefully help us win. I think the illusion might be he's taking things in stride but he's very confident and I don't know if you get a sense of how hard he's worked to get acclimated to baseball in the United States. I think he's done a great job and we feel he's ready."

Ohtani said nerves were not an issue on opening day.

But when asked if he would be nervous before his pitching debut on Sunday, Ohtani smiled, exhaled and nodded affirmatively...before his interpreter translated the question.

A lesson imparted from the day?

"Run hard to first," he said, and the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Ohtani did display speed in going from first to third on Martin Maldonado's double.

Ohtani also said the entire season would be a "learning experience" for him.

"It's going to be a long season; I just want to enjoy the season," said Ohtani, who was just 4-for-32 with three walks and 10 strikeouts in Cactus League play, leading many to wonder if he would start the season in the minor leagues.

"I just want the team to win. That's the only thing I was worried about."