TOKYO, JAPAN (WSYR-TV) — For the first time since 2008, baseball is once again a part of the Summer Games. It’s fitting, when you consider that baseball happens to be the most popular sport in Japan. In fact, as Team USA and Japan get set to meet with gold medal on the line, we’re seeing a Japanese influence in our national pastime, now more than ever.
Look no further than Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani. He has been “the story” of the Major League Baseball season so far. Ohtani is doing things that really haven’t been done since the days of Babe Ruth. He leads the Majors at the plate in home runs, while serving as a reliable pitcher on the mound every fifth day.
Jason Grilli pitched for 15 seasons in the Majors.
He, for one, is blown away by what Ohtani has been able to accomplish, “I know how sore I was after I pitched and for him to go out there and be ready to perform as a position player in hitting. I can’t see who is more deserving of an MVP then him. It’s incredible what he’s doing.”
Dan Dickerson is the radio voice of the Detroit Tigers. He has been quite impressed by Ohtani as well. As Dickerson says, “Babe Ruth stopped doing it in 1920 because it was too hard. Think about that; and now Shohei Ohtani is both a dominate pitcher and an incredible hitter.”
Shohei Ohtani’s path to MLB stardom was paved by in part of the Japanese-born players that came before him. Hideo Nomo was really the first to find great success in America bursting upon the scene with the Dodgers back in 1995. Then six years later, it was Ichiro Suzuki’s turn. His career is well-documented at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. His impact on the game, though, is being felt even today.
As Dan Dickerson points out, “Everybody agreed that if he wanted to, he could have been a home run hitter. But he chose to be a guy who rally settled for singles the occasional double so that he could have an impact on the bases and an impact on his offense that’s why you figure he needed to be a successful player for the Seattle Mariners for a long time and there was nobody like him.”
In other words, he was unique. Whether you’re taking about Ichiro Suzuki, Hideo Nomo, or Shohei Ohtani, that’s one thing they all have in common. They’re unique and they’re memorable.
“I believe if you’re good enough to play this game at the Major League level then you know, the door should be open,” Jason Grilli says. “Jackie Robinson did that long ago and it doesn’t stop there. It shouldn’t stop. If you’re good enough to play and want to play here. Let them in. Let them play.”
Dan Dickerson agrees with Grilli, “I think if you’re a young player in Japan and some want to stay in Japan, obviously. Just play Major League Baseball there but I think if they see the success there and the reaction from the crowds to Ichiro, Nomo, then they start to dream.”
No doubt dreaming of becoming the next Japanese-born player to leave a lasting imprint on the game that they love.