Shohei Ohtani establishes himself as baseball’s biggest attraction in his All-Star debut

They cheered his team, Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black and shortstop Trevor Story, and a raucous welcome to former Rockies star Nolan Arenado.

They booed the Yankees and Dodgers players, and even booed Chris Taylor for being on an “evil” big-market team.

Yet for nearly every other player introduced at the start of Tuesday’s Major League All-Star Game, the crowd’s reception was routine.

For just one more player, the 49,184 spectators at Coors Field made an exception and were encouraged by the announcement of his name.

Fox broadcaster Joe Buck announced over the stadium’s public address system: “Designated hitter and starting pitcher: Shohei Ohtani.”

Suddenly, as the Angels star appeared on the video screen, warming up in the bullpen to prepare for his first All-Star appearance, a packed stadium went wild.

A fan of Shohei Ohtani watches during batting practice before the MLB All-Star game on Tuesday in Denver.

(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

If there were ever any doubts about Ohtani’s place, popularity and impact on the sport, this week’s festivities have provided one more time to clear them.

During the first half of this season, Ohtani has become one of the biggest draws in baseball. And this week, he saw himself as a natural in that role, calmly and confidently saying and doing all the right things.

He participated in Monday’s Home Run Derby, exhausting himself in an epic first round loss to Juan Soto. He walked the “purple carpet” before Tuesday’s game and made one television appearance after another before the first pitch.

The first player in MLB history to be selected to an All-Star game as both a pitcher and a hitter, he also did both in the Summer Classic, hitting twice as the AL starting designated hitter and pitching a first inning. perfect as the team’s starting pitcher, hitting 100 mph in a game for the first time in three months.

He called it the “most memorable” moment of his MLB career thus far – “I’ve obviously never played in the playoffs, or the World Series,” he noted, adding that “once he does, he’ll probably get over it.” – and said he even got nervous being surrounded by so many other greats of the sport.

“Before talking to them, they were a bit intimidating,” Ohtani said through her interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. “But once I got to chat with them, they were all great.”

Ohtani’s exploits this week came against the backdrop of controversial comments from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, who on Monday criticized Ohtani’s use of an interpreter. Smith later apologized, but not before his comments resonated across the sport, uniting the baseball world in Ohtani’s favor.

Ohtani did not directly address Smith’s comments, but did speak Tuesday about his hopes of helping the game grow.

Angels star Shohei Ohtani talks about competing in the home run derby, playing in the MLB All-Star game and seeing his legions of fans.

Responding to a question about the “Ohtani mania” that runs through the sports world, he said: “I’m glad about it. But if there are more people watching baseball, it makes me happy and that’s good for the sport. “

He acknowledged that this week was a lot more tiring compared to his normal regular season workload, but added: “If everyone had fun, then that’s fine with me.”

But his appearance twice, alone, was a historic milestone.

He was only the fourth starting pitcher in All-Star game history to also take two at-bats, and the first pitcher of any kind to reach the plate in the game since Roy Halladay in 2009.

He also became the first player in any game (regular season, postseason, or All-Star) in the modern era of baseball (since 1901) to be the starting pitcher, start first in the batting order, and get the winning decision.

And if that wasn’t enough, there were also testimonies of his talent throughout the day.

AL manager Kevin Cash, who helped the league literally change the rules of the game Tuesday so that Ohtani could remain in the batting order after his pitching outing was completed, said in his press conference. post-match: “The way he’s handled everything makes it that much more special.”

And even his Angels teammate Jared Walsh – who went 0-for-2 but had a key catch in left field with the bases loaded in the eighth inning – was amazed at how Ohtani managed to stand out so intensely.

“On the bench, I realized how many directions he’s being pulled into right now,” Walsh said. “I know you had a great time. But man, he has a lot on his shoulders ”.

And he doesn’t seem to have a problem carrying that burden on his shoulders.

“It was definitely more fun than stressful,” Ohtani said, adding, “I’m just so thankful for all the cheers and support I get.”

Angels star Shohei Ohtani talks about competing in the Home Run Derby, playing in the MLB All-Star game and watching his legions of fans.

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Shohei Ohtani establishes himself as baseball’s biggest attraction in his All-Star debut

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