Oh­tani be­gins with An­gels to great fan­fare, ex­pec­ta­tions

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - SPORTS - By Janie Mccauley

TEMPE, ARIZ. » Sho­hei Oh­tani emerged from the club­house and tipped his cap to the swarm of Ja­panese coun­try­men cap­tur­ing his ev­ery move, cam­eras click­ing a mile a minute.

He of­fered that sig­na­ture smile, some­thing An­gels man­ager Mike Scios­cia no­ticed right away and ap­pre­ci­ates as much as his new two-way star’s tremen­dous, “ex­tra­or­di­nary” baseball tal­ent.

As a small group of Ja­panese fans cheered and waved their flag, Oh­tani walked to a back field at Tempe Di­ablo Sta­dium and got to work with the rest of the pitch­ers and catch­ers on a dreary Day 1 of spring train­ing Wed­nes­day. His sup­port­ers all-out sprinted up the bleach­ers and around left field to get there for an­other glimpse.

It quickly be­came far less glam­orous for the down-toearth Ja­panese phe­nom­e­non. As in, pre­tend­ing to throw a ball be­fore hus­tling to cover first base for a pitcher field­ing practice drill — in the rain. He later took some cuts.

Oh­tani said it was a shorter day than he’s used to back home.

“Baseball-wise on the field I’m go­ing to be noth­ing dif­fer­ent than what I was do­ing in Ja­pan,” he said through trans­la­tor and friend Ippei Mizuhara.

Oh­tani’s first bullpen ses­sion was sched­uled for Thurs­day and Scios­cia said it would be this week­end or early next week be­fore the lanky right-han­der faces live hit­ters.

“There’s go­ing to be a lot of re­sources we have to get him ready,” Scios­cia said.

No, Scios­cia doesn’t know yet where Oh­tani will hit in the lineup on the days he bats. No, he won’t be play­ing the out­field. No, he won’t be slid­ing head­first (“ob­vi­ously,” Scios­cia noted).

Yes, Scios­cia has seen him run. Yes, it’s quite im­pres­sive. Yes, he can ab­so­lutely steal bases if he has the chance.

“He’s a spe­cial ath­lete,” Scios­cia said, not­ing there is a plan for when Oh­tani will take pregame bat­ting practice for Cac­tus League play. “He’s had great suc­cess play­ing in Ja­pan, run­ning the bases and do­ing things that a po­si­tion player needs to do to try to get him­self in po­si­tion to score a run. He has great stride, he’s got tremen­dous speed. He can steal a base. There’s a lot of things he can do. I want him to play baseball. So, if he’s out there, he’s go­ing to play baseball.”

Owner Arte Moreno and gen­eral man­ager Billy Ep­pler were on hand for the oc­ca­sion. For a change, twotime AL MVP Mike Trout isn’t the big­gest thing at An­gels camp.

In a No. 17 red jersey, Oh­tani sat at his locker in the club­house as old clas­sics like Tears for Fears’ “Shout” and “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins blared from the speaker right next to him. He said he ap­pre­ci­ates that “every­one has been very wel­com­ing” — and he plans to work on his sense of hu­mor this spring.

“I hope he hits 30 homers and punches out 180 guys this year,” fel­low pitcher Gar­rett Richards said. “He seems like a great guy so far but I’m look­ing for­ward to get­ting to know him a lit­tle bit more. We haven’t seen any­thing like it. Pretty amaz­ing.”

Oh­tani al­ready ap­pears rel­a­tively set­tled in, stand­ing and re­mov­ing his hat to say his hel­los in the club­house while bal­anc­ing two phones. He al­ready has bonded with slug­ger Al­bert Pu­jols and got­ten to know Trout, who reached out be­fore Oh­tani chose to join Los An­ge­les.

“I’ve never felt that pres­sure every­one’s talk­ing about around me,” Oh­tani said.

Scios­cia isn’t overly con­cerned about Oh­tani han­dling all the at­ten­tion and fan­fare as a 23-yearold rookie with enor­mous ex­pec­ta­tions. Mizuhara spent the past five years work­ing with Oh­tani while he was on the Nip­pon Ham-Fighters.

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