Baseball-Superstar Ohtani excited with S. Korea fanfare, opening game

By Thomson Reuters Mar 16, 2024 | 8:05 AM

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) -Major League Baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani said on Saturday he was excited to receive international attention and play in his first opening series in South Korea for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Ohtani arrived in Seoul on Friday for the opener Wednesday and Thursday against the San Diego Padres, drawing fanfare from a large crowd at Incheon International Airport. He will also play Korea Baseball Organization teams and Team Korea in exhibition games starting Sunday.

“I have really been looking forward to playing in Korea. I have about a week – there is the official game but I’d like to make efforts not just in baseball but also in sightseeing,” the Japanese pitching and slugging phenomenon told a press conference in Seoul.

His second trip to South Korea as a baseball player prompted widespread Japanese media coverage. A national hero in his home country, Ohtani was part of Japan’s under-18 team when it won the world championship in Seoul in 2012.

He said South Korea was “one of my favourite countries” even back then and he was glad to return.

“Japan and Korea, they have been many exciting, good games and I have been watching these since I was a child. The Korean team has always been very memorable for me, they’ve had great teams,” Ohtani said.

“To be able to return here to play baseball, I feel very special too.”

Ohtani, who made a surprise announcement of his marriage and shared a photo of his wife just before flying to Seoul, said it was her first time travelling with him for a game.

“It’s the first time for her to come and see an official game, so in that sense I think it will be memorable,” he said.

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 cross-town Angels.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Ohtani has the talent to build a legacy as NBA legend Michael Jordan did in basketball, and he chose the Dodgers to achieve that goal.

“As an athlete, the guys that get the legacies are guys that win multiple championships,” Roberts said. “Shohei, I don’t think he’s been in the postseason and so he signed on here to, to win a championship and multiple championships. So that’s his only goal.”

Padres Gold Glove-winning infielder Kim Ha-seong, from South Korea, said he was “honoured yet nervous” to play in his home country but hoped to inspire other Asian athletes seeking a career in the big leagues.

“Thanks to the good work done by Asian players in the MLB in the past, I think the path has now been opened for me,” he told a separate press conference. “If more games like this are held, many Asian players will have a bigger dream and take on a challenge in the MLB.”

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Hyunyoung Yi and Daewoung Kim; Editing by William Mallard)