The Angels outlasted all comers to secure Ohtani, 23, who played the last four seasons for the Nippon-Ham Fighters. He hits as well as he pitches — or is it the other way around? — and is eager to do both in the major leagues. His new team will gladly let him.
“We definitely plan on him being a two-way player,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “There’s no doubt about that.”
During their presentations to Ohtani, the Angels discussed a detailed plan for his usage, going so far as outlining every day of the season he would pitch or serve as the designated hitter. Now that they have him, General Manager Billy Eppler called that plan outdated, because it did not involve Ohtani’s input.
“It’s something we’re going to have to discuss,” Ohtani said. “I’m going to talk to the team, they’re going to talk to me and hear what I have to say.”
The Angels unveiled Ohtani at an event that resembled a pep rally more than a news conference. A few hundred fans ringed the seating area, cheering every response and chanting his name. Afterward they could hustle into the team store, where replica jerseys ($139.99) and T-shirts ($29.99) were already available for purchase.
With the Angels, Ohtani will wear No. 17 — not No. 11, as he did in Japan — though he said he really hoped to wear No. 27. He was not being serious: That number belongs to the star center fielder Mike Trout, who spoke with Ohtani over FaceTime on Monday night, when the Angels first met with him. Minutes after the meeting concluded, Trout called Eppler, curious for his impressions.
“I told him he’s like you,” Eppler said. “He’s like you: simple, humble and he wants to be great.”
That humility was on display Saturday, when after introducing himself in English, Ohtani said through an interpreter that he forgot what he was going to say because it was his first time talking in front of a large crowd. When asked how he felt about being compared to Babe Ruth, Ohtani said he was honored but he was nowhere close to that level. “I just hope to get as close to him as possible.”
Eppler has monitored Ohtani since 2013, watching him pitch in five games and hit in another five. In August 2015, standing behind home plate watching Ohtani pitch against Chiba Lotte, Eppler marveled at both his ability — that deadly fastball and three strong off-speed pitches — and his acumen. “At that moment in time, I knew this guy was going to be special,” he said.
Eppler said that he did not feel optimistic during the process, but that he felt more encouraged Thursday night, when the Angels met again with Ohtani. The next morning, Ohtani’s representative, Nez Balelo, called to notify Eppler of the decision. Eppler leapt up and when he went to sit down, he missed the chair and fell to the floor.
Ohtani was asked what he was more excited to do: hit his first home run or win his first game as a pitcher.
“I look forward to both,” Ohtani said. “Hopefully I can maybe pull off both of them in one game.”