Baseball-For diehard Ohtani fan, LA Dodgers Korea trip is a blessing

By Thomson Reuters Mar 15, 2024 | 3:25 AM

By Hyun Young Yi and Daewoung Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – Shohei Ohtani superfan Jake Lee finally laid eyes on his hero on Friday after the Los Angeles Dodgers superstar arrived in South Korea for next week’s MLB season opener.

After loading up his Porsche with clappers and placards, Lee drove to Incheon International Airport and was among some 100 fans screaming, cheering and waving as the Japanese two-way threat walked through arrivals.

Some fans held up placards declaring: “Goatani Go” and “Welcome Baseball Genius Ohtani”. One sign welcomed “Face Genius Ohtani”, a term South Koreans use for someone with a stunning appearance.

Wearing a Dodgers hat and a hoodie, Lee, the leader of a South Korean Ohtani fan club with about 530 members, said seeing his believing.

“I love him and support him but I had doubts whether that king of a human being really existed, but now my eyes saw him, so those doubts are gone,” added Lee, who published a book titled, “I Drive Porsche like Ohtani” about his fandom last year.

The Dodgers will play two exhibition games before facing the San Diego Padres in two games at Gocheok Sky Dome in their 2024 MLB regular season openers.

Ohtani, 29, won his second Most Valuable Player award last year after leading the American League with 44 home runs and notching 10 wins as a pitcher.

In December, he signed a 10-year, $700 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers after six years with the Angels.

The player’s visit to South Korea felt like divine intervention, said Lee.

“It’s like the prayers I’ve been offering for years are finally being answered,” the 48-year-old radio producer added.

Putting aside the bitter history between South Korea and Japan, Lee said that while Ohtani was an international sports star and a hero in Japan to him he was an idol who had shown strength and courage to overcome challenges.

“I used to live my life avoiding challenges that seemed too hard, thinking they were impossible,” Lee told Reuters.

“Shohei Ohtani represents a revered figure who has taught me the true meaning of challenge and courage. He never gives up.”

Lee’s dedication to Ohtani is evident in every corner of his study room, with everything from signed baseballs, to photos to autograph cards worth $20,000 vying for pride of place.

Lee said he has spent more than 500 million won ($376,110) on buying two Porsche cars – Ohtani is a brand ambassador for the carmaker – and collecting some 500 items of memorabilia including a ball thrown by Ohtani in a game.

“Ohtani’s saliva might have been on it. I grab that ball when I feel tired,” he said.

($1 = 1,329.4000 won)

(Writing by Ju-min Park; Editing by Peter Rutherford)