Since childhood, watching pitchers bat has been one of my favorite aspects of baseball. Maybe it’s because I was never any good at hitting myself so it was relatable watching them strike out so frequently. But every once in a while, a pitcher would earn a base hit or even hit a home run, and those moments always excited me beyond joy. All of Waino’s homers, Brad Penny’s grand slam, and, of course, Bartolo Colon’s legendary “The Impossible Has Happened” are among my favorite baseball moments. It’s something I’ve always loved, and I can’t really explain why.
So naturally, in the 9th grade, when I heard about this Japanese kid named Shohei Ohtani who was a “two-sword" player, and that he was coming stateside, I was extremely excited. Even then I hoped the Cardinals would sign him. Sure, Bumgarner, Greinke, and Wainwright were all great hitters when compared to other pitchers, but I never thought I’d get to see a pitcher batting cleanup on days he wasn’t pitching. But now that dream would become reality.
And today, the Los Angeles Dodgers have signed Shohei Ohtani to a ten-year, $700 million contract.
I’ll never forget Shohei proving all of the doubters wrong after being called a “high school hitter” who was incapable of hitting Major League curveballs. The “week of Ohtani” was one of the most electrifying baseball moments I had ever watched, but his midseason UCL tear was devastating. Despite a Rookie of the Year-worthy campaign in 2018, Ohtani the DH fell off my radar for a bit as he wouldn’t make a return to pitching until 2020, a return that was disastrous. At that point, Ohtani’s half-season of two-way success appeared to be just a flash in the pan, and the experiment was all but over. Flash forward to Spring Training of 2021 where Ohtani appeared fully healthy and ready to go. The pitching numbers still weren’t great, but he would make one final run at trying to do both. This is the year where my love for Ohtani, as well as my love for baseball truly blossomed.
2021 was also the first year I played fantasy baseball after a group of high school friends formed a league to stay in touch after graduation. My draft was mostly dreadful. First-round pick Mike Trout played just 36 games due to injury, 3rd rounder Yu Darvish regressed significantly, and 5th-round selection Marcell Ozuna (from the Braves) managed to be suspended and on the IL at the same time. The saving grace was 17th round pick, Number 17. When given a choice between Didi Gregorius, Patrick Corbin, Eric Hosmer, many other mid-tier players, and Shohei Ohtani, it was a no-brainer. Despite being largely unproven, I knew Shohei’s upside as a two-way player could make him a top player in MLB. So I took him. And the rest is history.
En route to a championship, my fantasies of a starting pitcher batting third and clubbing 46 homers while posting a 3.18 ERA manifested. I guess unicorns are real. Watching the unanimous MVP dazzle with talents never before seen elevated my love for baseball. In 2021, I watched more baseball than ever before and became obsessed with not just Ohtani and the Cardinals, but all of Major League Baseball. I started listening to baseball podcasts, reading articles, and scouring analytics as an armchair GM. I immersed myself in the game fully.
As Ohtani’s performance carried into 2022, and that team he played for in Anaheim kept struggling, I began coming up with ways for my true dream scenario. Shohei Ohtani playing for the St. Louis Cardinals. Maybe that was through a trade. After all, the Cardinals fleeced the Diamondbacks and Rockies for their current corner infield superstars. Maybe ownership would be willing to open the wallet and give Ohtani his record contract. Probably not, but still something to dream of.
During the holidays following the 2022 season, St. Louis was going through a brutal winter storm, and amidst the violent blizzard and temperature well into the negatives, I found myself stuck at home for several days with nothing to do. To pass the time I decided to watch a Japanese anime series called Major. Major tells the story of Goro Shigeno, a young baseball player who takes the world by storm as an ace pitcher who also hits a lot of home runs. Hey, that sounds familiar. While Ohtani was inspired by Shigeno’s seemingly impossible accomplishments as a two-way player, I was drawn to something else. The way Japanese culture portrays baseball, as more of an art than a sport, and the way the love of baseball is passed from generation to generation struck a chord with me. Cozied up in my basement on a brutal winter day, I decided I also wanted to share my love of the game.
"Goro’s passion made me love baseball even more"- Shohei Ohtani
With no real baseball talent or experience, I couldn’t play or coach the game. The only way to get involved was through media: writing and podcasting. After calling up two of my friends whom I talked baseball with on a daily basis, Noot News was born. Going in with no real expectations and a silly-sounding name, we recorded our first few episodes. Things were slow initially, but we had so much fun recording. Then, just as it’s happened many times already, Shohei Ohtani changed everything.
The name Noot News and the tagline “Grind the Pepper!” was something we came up with just for fun. If the podcast actually became successful we were sure we’d have to change the name at some point. But the baseball gods had other plans. When Shohei Ohtani went full pepper grinder after homering in an exhibition match leading up to the World Baseball Classic, Lars Nootbaar and his pepper grinder celebration exploded internationally. All of a sudden, Noot News gained a huge listenership in Japan, at one point charting third among all baseball podcasts. Episodes drawing only a few listeners now drew hundreds. When I asked Katie Woo tongue-in-cheek if the Cardinals would sign Shohei Ohtani did I expect over 7 thousand people to tune in, with 80% of those viewers coming from Japan? Absolutely not.
Somehow, my crazy journey of watching baseball anime led me to share my love of the game with those same passionate baseball fans of Japan. Thousands of fans in a country I have no connection to thousands of miles away were listening to our little podcast. How cool is that? If my full circle moment came 2 months into my podcasting journey I must have found something special.
Saying Ohtani in a Cardinals uniform was a longshot is a massive understatement. And that’s okay. He doesn’t have to wear the birds on the bat to be my favorite player. Regardless of team, Shohei Ohtani the two-way player is enough of a gift. Had he given up hitting when he came stateside after struggling in his first Spring Training, I’d still be a casual baseball fan. Had he given up pitching after multiple arm injuries and setbacks, Noot News wouldn’t exist. I’d never meet so many amazing people in the baseball community and have a chance to share my love of the game.
Thank you, Shohei, for all the late nights watching West Coast games just to see you perform. For spreading your love and passion for this game to me. For making the impossible feel attainable. And for being an inspiration on and off the field. Watching you perform is miraculous. It encourages me to push through times of adversity. You may not wear my favorite team’s uniform, but I’ll always support you regardless. ありがとう翔平。I can’t wait to see you back on the field in Spring.