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Me vs. Shohei Ohtani: The dumbest rivalry in sports
Maybe I should just let this guy dominate the league from a distance.
The origin of this story goes back to the summer of 2021. It was during that season the Los Angeles Angeles megastar Shohei Ohtani was first starting to take over Major League Baseball, doing things that quite literally nobody has ever done before.
Dominating as a hitter.
Dominating as a pitcher.
The ultimate duel threat.
Yeah, there was Babe Ruth way back in the 1910s and 1920s. But Ruth never really dominated in both categories at the same time, and while he was a very good pitcher, he was nowhere near as dominant as he was at the plate. He also played in a white-only league that could not have possibly featured the best talent in the world.
But Ohtani? He is doing it at the highest level, in an era where players are bigger, faster, stronger, and better than ever before with every possible advantage, tool, and analytic at their disposal. And while he is one of the top left-handed power hitters in baseball, he is also one of the best starting pitchers. He might even be better on the mound than he is at the plate.
Early in his career he had always flashed potential at both spots, but he lost a season as a pitcher due to injury and went through some adjustments in coming over to North America from the Japanese leagues.
In 2021, though, it all come together and produced a historic, unprecedented MVP performance. And dammit, I wanted to see it in person.
Trouble was, the Angels were not making any scheduled trips to Pittsburgh that season. So one mid-summer Monday night (it might have been a Sunday?) I noticed something on the schedule: He was scheduled to pitch in New York City, at Yankee stadium, against the New York Yankees that Wednesday.
This was doable.
I could hop on a train on Tuesday morning, get into the city that night, go to the game on Wednesday, then come back on Thursday.
I had the support of my wife, but I did not have the support from myself. It took some prodding from everybody, ranging from her, to people on social media, to my friends sitting in a bar as I explained my plan. Finally I took the jump and just went for it.
So the next morning I packed a quick bag, walked down to the train station, and was on my way. I met up with a couple of friends I had known over the years from Twitter and had strong seats just behind home plate.
Everything was going according to plan. Until the game started.
Ohtani led off the game in the top of the first inning and flied out to deep left just as I was walking to my seats.
And then he took the mound.
He proceeded to have one of the worst starts of his Major League career, allowing seven earned runs in just two thirds of an inning before being pulled. His night was over before the first inning was over. All of the pre-trip anxiety. All of the planning. All of the last minute rushing. And it was all over in less than an inning.
My text messages and social media notifications were blowing up. My wife, who never swears, text me “well shit” when I told her what had happened. I think she cried on my behalf.
Beyond Ohtani’s quick hook, the game featured TWO extended rain delays, and after more than four hours at the ballpark I finally decided that there was no chance the game was resuming, especially as long-time Yankees fans also agreed there was no way the game would start back up, and bailed.
After emerging from the Subway in Manhattan I found that it had stopped raining, the game had resumed, and I stopped in a bar just in time to watch on TV as the Angels hit a game-tying grand slam in the top of the ninth inning. Wild stuff.
It was even worse when you consider Ohtani hit two home runs the night before. Missed him by a day.
But the next day I thought that my luck would start to change! The next day’s game in New York was rained out and re-scheduled for a date later in August, and even if Ohtani was not going to pitch, I could still go see him hit.
So I went. Again.
On this particular night he just so happened to go 0-for-4 against Gerrit Cole while striking out multiple times. The saving grace from this trip was that I at least got to see him hit multiple times, and I also snuck in two other baseball games the night before (a Mets game) and the following night (a Yankees-Red Sox game from the bleachers).
I love baseball, and it has always been my favorite sport. Going to games where I have no rooting interest in the team is probably peak happiness for me so sneaking in three games in two different stadiums over a 72-hour stretch was amazing. Especially since I met some great people, including somebody that actually followed me on Twitter and read my work. Wild times.
But all of that was just the warm-up act for this week when, you guessed it, the Angels were back in New York and I had enough of a window in my schedule where I could pull this off.
I was off on Wednesday. I did not work again until Thursday night. I could do this.
Naturally, I had to try again.
I woke up at the ass-crack of dawn on Wednesday morning, booked a hotel for the night, bought a bleacher seat for $15, drove four hours to Trenton, New Jersey, caught a 10:30 train into the city, and set out for a fun day.
I got a couple of slices of pizza from NY Pizza Suprema as soon as I stepped out of Penn Station, had a couple of afternoon beers, walked around the Village, and then made my way up to the Bronx for the renewal of the dumbest rivalry in sports.
My luck vs. Shohei Ohtani.
You could not have asked for a better night.
It was 60 degrees, the sun was shining, I had a seat in the third row of the bleachers, and nobody cared about my Pirates hat thanks in large part to the Boston Red Sox fan that sat behind me.
I was in my happy place.
In the top of the first inning with one out, Ohtani made his first plate appearance. It was a great battle against Yankees starter Jhonny Brito. Ohtai worked the count full, and on a 3-2 pitch connected on an absolute rocket to straightaway center field.
You know the sound a batted ball makes when it is a solid home run? That CRACK that echoes throughout the stadium? The type of hit where you know as soon as contact is made that it is going to go a long way?
This ball had that. It had the sound. It had the velocity. It had the trajectory. It looked GONE.
There was a groan from the crowd. Yankees center fielder Aaron Judge starts sprinting back toward the wall. The ball kept carrying….
Then this happened…
He not only robbed him of a home run, he knocked it back into play with his glove and then caught it with his bare fucking hand.
Seriously. What the fuck?
I will say this.
You will not see two better players in baseball combine to make a better play than that. Two of the three best players in baseball, arguably the two BEST players in baseball, and the past two American League MVP players doing THAT is one of the top baseball moments I have ever seen in person. As far as individual plays go, it might be one of the coolest sports moments I have ever seen in person. It was cool as hell. Just amazing talent doing what amazing talents do. That alone was worth the trip and I am happy I was there for it. I also had an amazing view of it.
Shohei Ohtani's batted ball went 411 feet with 111 mph exit velocity. There are 1,560 other batted balls in the Statcast database (since 2015) that went 411+ feet and had 111+ mph exit velo ... Ohtani's is the only one that resulted in an out.
The only ball hit that hard and that far since 2015 that resulted in an out. How is that even possible.
I wanted to see something historic with Ohtani. I did. It just was not the way I planned on it.
Adding to the awesomeness of it was the fact that Judge came to bat in the bottom of the first inning and hit a ball to the freaking moon for a two-run home run.
I went to see one American League MVP, and the other one completely stole the show and the game in a 3-2 Yankees extra winning win.
All of this is in good fun. I do not actually think I am a jinx to this dude, but holy shit. Three separate treks to see the greatest player of our era, the most unique player of all time, and in those games he has gone 0-for-9, struck out four times, been robbed of a home run, and allowed seven earned runs in two-thirds of an inning.
You would think in at least one of those games he would have done something. Or had something go his way.
There are also no regrets here. Each one of those adventures has been unforgettable for so many reasons. I love going to baseball games, I love going to New York City, I love going to different stadiums, and I love seeing great players. I have gotten all of that out of those trips and met some amazing people along the way. I decided a long time ago that I am never going to retire and after years of being afraid to do things and missing out on things I have decided you just need to do it if you can and worry about the rest later. I would do them again. I will do them again.
Speaking of. Ohtani and the Angels make a return trip to New York in August to play the Mets at Citi Field (the superior New York baseball stadium, by the way) and I plan on seeing if my powers of containing him are limited to Yankee Stadium, or if it translates to other parks. If he has a bad game then I might need to start contracting out my services too the rest of the American League.