Alternately titled: I journeyed to Mouse City in the county that Vicki Gunvalson built and all I got was a breathtaking generational talent live in person and also this really dumb, perfect pillow sweet-talked/strong-armed away from a stranger
Shohei Ohtani has very large shoulders. If I’ve got your phone number, you likely know this. I send out his picture liberally because I believe in growing the game and, unlike MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, I know how to do it. Shohei Ohtani is tall and smiley with hair that flops becomingly and he hits and pitches both at an All Star level, a feat which has not been seen in Major League Baseball since back when sixty percent of the sport was drinking beer in the dugout, punching, like, your probable farmer second cousin in the crowd for heckling, and trying to ignore the expanding numbness in your legs and feet from syphilis. Shohei’s splitter is sickening and his home runs are majestic. He’s a brilliant boy wonder with a skill set that openly astounds all but the most terminally fun averse old baseball cranks and pathetic racists. Shohei Ohtani is the singular superstar of the moment, better than a video game, a Hollywood dream of a magical freak, seeming almost as if he were created in a lab with every possible trait for invoking maximum awe and delight, and last Monday we drove to Anaheim to drink it in.
No offense to Orange County but when I go there I start laughing and can’t stop. It’s not the fault of the people who live there, or else, well, it is, a bit, but it’s more Josh Schwartz’s. In the land of milk and honey (Disneyland and 2000s teen drama The O.C.) live the Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles Which In This Case Is In Fact Anaheim (Which is to say noted real life Major League Baseball team the Los Angeles Angels, who play in Anaheim, which is not Los Angeles). For the last decade, the Angels organization has failed catastrophically in their endeavors to build a supporting cast around their historic centerpiece, the thumb shaped weather enthusiast and seemingly nice dullard, the statistically best baseball player in the world Mike Trout. The criminal ineptitude in roster construction has reached such a point that I really stopped watching any Angels games at all in recent years. (Not that I was ever exactly seeking the Angels out, but it went from the amiable indifference I hold for most teams to active avoidance.) It was too demoralizing to watch maybe the greatest player of all time tread water on terrible teams.
In theory, the fact of adding to this stars & scrubs squad (I say this with all due respect to Angels Jared Walsh and David Fletcher, who are good pieces, but just not enough for the team to make the jump out of the league’s basement. Less respect to Anthony Rendon, who is also very good; I just don’t like his vibes.) the bright, shiny new toy that is Shohei Ohtani and still not seeing an improvement in overall team success should only compound that misery and frustration, but that has not been my experience. Shohei’s superhuman talent and boyish charm have tipped the scales out of grim wastefulness into something absurd and wonderful. What do I care, really, about petty wins and losses, when I can watch Ohtani stand in for an at bat and swing with startling, beautiful power that loses none of its wonder in repeated viewings, a proud and regal redwood tree grown arms and grinning? Who cares if the fumbling Angels front office can’t escape the quicksand of .500 season mediocrity when there’s a handsome guy throwing over 100mph in the zone during the top of the inning and then ripping dingers out to the cheap seats in the bottom? There is a euphoria in bearing witness to such magnificent ability. To know that every at bat or starting pitching appearance might contain some heretofore unseen wonder, some unimaginable display of physical prowess, exhilarates the watcher in this giddy, infectious way I have not experienced at this level since I was ten years old and every home run I saw Manny Ramirez hit was the new best home run I had ever seen. The scores and standings slip away. Shohei Ohtani on a baseball diamond is an immersive sensory experience, and I can’t get enough.
On July 5th, the Angels offered a Shohei Ohtani pillow as the gameday giveaway. He would be turning twenty seven that day. I learned about this promotion because I watch a lot of Angels baseball now. Here’s what that looks like.
Angel Stadium is green inside (though there are giant red helmets at the front gates) and kind of lovely, with concession halls that are rather dingy and tunnel-like in a way that I like a lot for no particular reason—it’s just that I’m happy buying tallboys shoulder to shoulder with strangers on what feels like a subway platform. After proclaiming to my friends that we could get tickets for the comparable steal of twelve bucks, I proceeded to spend several days obsessively studying the seating chart and picked some that were thirty and change instead. I wanted us out where we’d have the best shot at getting a Shohei home run ball flying into our squealing, grasping hands/skulls should he happen to hit one that night. Which he didn’t, in the end. And what’s really wild is it didn’t matter. What’s really sick and corny and so so nice is the thrill of his charismatic presence, the tantalizing possibility of magic, the people in shirts like this one, the buzz in that park where fans were watching not simply their losing team lose again but also their brilliant alien prince gracing the California grass with the spectacular were more than enough.
Shohei Ohtani entered the All Star break with a league leading 33 big, fat, glorious monster dong home runs. I did not get to see one launch and crash land in person, but waiting for it to happen was such a pleasure I know I’ll be back to try again. Which is really saying something because, again, really, you have to go to Anaheim to do it. Tonight, Shohei will compete in the Home Run Derby, MLB’s goofy and wonderful midsummer event that is a rare concession, by a league perpetually down on its own product, that nah people really love watching dudes hit the ball a long, long way and feel good when they’re watching that. Tomorrow, he will don a deeply hideous American League All Star 2021 jersey and be the starting pitcher for the AL All Star team. That rules. It kicks so much ass. Baseball is strange and archaic, old and odd, a sport that culturally, in America, is dominated by white guy in cargo shorts energy, even though there’s really a lot more diversity in the fan ecosystem, a lot of people who want to think about and engage with the sport in a way that’s more expansive. I’m not really that ancient myself, but I’ve certainly got a weird brain, and I could not fault a young person, or person of color, or queer person, or basically anybody who would not fit in at a Barstool Sports meetup, for finding a lot of what I love about the game dull or even alienating. But not Shohei. Shohei is undeniable, and we are so lucky to have him.
What Shohei Ohtani is doing is historic, astounding, improbable. But also mainly it’s just so fucking fun. Oafs on cable sports shows can try to dim the shine but all they’ll manage to darken is their own souls. He’s too good to be ignored. This is too special to ruin. The rest of us are too busy enjoying—so sorry, but yes… yes, I am going to do it again—the greatest Sho on Earth.
Anyway, funniest thing a hot guy has said in probably decades. Put him in the hall today.