Baseball's two-way superstar Ohtani Shohei looks back on his stellar 2021 season Baseball's two-way superstar Ohtani Shohei looks back on his stellar 2021 season
Backstories

Baseball's two-way superstar Ohtani Shohei looks back on his stellar 2021 season

    NHK World
    Correspondent
    Ohtani Shohei’s fourth term in the majors was certainly one to remember – and the two-way star knows it. In his first news conference back in Japan after the season, Ohtani reflects on the highlights, lowlights and what to expect next year.

    How did you manage the injuries you’ve been battling for the past four years?

    "So, I’ve had some injuries, and there were times when it was mentally tough. But I've always believed that I could pitch again, and that I'd get better. The doctor who performed my surgery and the trainer who accompanied me every day both felt the same way. It wasn’t easy, but I had no anxiety about it."

    Which pitcher and batter impressed you most this season?

    "Max Scherzer of the LA Dodgers for the pitcher. I pitched against him in the All-Star Game. He's a great player. I've been watching him since I was little, and he's the kind of player I wanted to face someday. He really impressed me.
    As for batters, they're all great batters, including Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays and Salvador Pérez of Kansas City Royals. It's hard to pick just one."

    Ohtani at a news conference
    Ohtani at a news conference on Nov. 15 in Tokyo

    People say there's a tendency for a player's condition to deteriorate after the Home Run Derby. Your performance suffered as well. What do you make of that?

    "There's no single cause. Overall, I got tougher balls, and the team had to decide where to play its cards while balancing the team. Batting average will change depending on the situation when you stand in the batter's box, even if you are in the same condition. In that sense, I think the second half of the season was more difficult for me."

    How did you feel about getting walked?

    "The main reason I got walked is because our main hitters were out with injuries. It probably won't be like that next year. There will be more players in the lineup who play better than me. So, the team tactics will be different. Given all the circumstances, if I calmly do my job in the batter's box based on what I learned this year, I think I can play well."

    As a pitcher, what would you like to improve next season?

    "The best thing this year was that I was able to pitch a lot of innings in a number of games. I was recovering from my injuries as the second half progressed. I want to keep it this way next year. I think I can improve my ball speed and have better control. I think the first thing I need to do is to maintain my physical condition."

    How are you doing mentally?

    "I often got depressed. The last part of the year was the hardest for me mentally since coming to the majors. I don't know what to say, but the team was not winning. I had no idea about the post-season and beyond. There were more tough moments in the second half. And of course, I'm down when I can't hit, or when they hit me. But the major league has a lot of games in a row, so there are games every day, and there are always good and bad results. But I'm very happy that I could reflect on each play every day, like, 'That was good,' or 'That was not good.'

    I'm so happy that I've had experiences that I wouldn't have had normally. I know that I have this chance to reflect because I was able to play. When I was injured, I couldn't play. So, personally, I think it's been a good year, despite being down at times."

    What did you gain from the All-Star Game and from the Home Run Derby? How did you feel playing with Kikuchi Yusei, who is from the same Hanamaki Higashi High School and was also among the selected players?

    "Perhaps our high school coaches were happier than us that we both were selected for the All-Star Game. We signed autographs together and sent it to them.

    I would be very happy if I could be on the All-Star team every year. The home run competition has been a great new experience. I was very happy because I played the power game at the top level. And by realizing that I can compete in the power game, I think I can elevate myself to a higher level. And I also wanted people to enjoy it. The results were not good, but I want to do it again if I get another chance."

    Home Run Derby
    Ohtani leaves the field early in the first round of the Home Run Derby on July 12, 2021.

    What was the most exciting play this season?

    "The game in which I was not listed as the designated hitter. That was a big moment.
    Big for me personally and for the team as well. It was important to start the season well and fight to the end. I was able to begin with a good balance. That was big.

    What do you look forward to next season?

    "It wasn't decided how I would pitch before the season. We just started off the season discussing it with the coach. It was like, if I felt I could pitch this game, I told him so. It was like that throughout the season. We learned that I could pitch more than we thought. It's the best thing that we learned, and I think we can continue on next year."

    You are a top taxpayer -- anything to say about the tax system in Japan?

    "Los Angeles has a high tax rate. I have to pay a little more than half of what I earn. Well, I pay anyway. I don't spend much though. So I suppose it will just keep piling up for the time being."

    Do you think about the timing of starting a family?

    "Timing? I don't really think about timing. I hope I have good timing with it. I think what will be will be."

    Is it still some time away?

    "At the moment, I think it's still a long way off."

    Would you like to continue as both a pitcher and a batter?

    "Yes, I made the effort, and I think I can do much better. I will keep working hard."

    What do you expect from next year?

    "I haven't pitched that many innings yet. So, if I could pitch in more games, I think I could produce better results at a higher level."

    How do you feel to be compared to Babe Ruth?

    "It's an honor just to be compared to him. It seems he's not a player to be described by numbers alone. That's not where his greatness lies. Being a player like him is what we all aim for. It's hard to find a player who will be remembered forever. He's a kind of player like that. I have never seen him play, but I think it's great that so many people remember him."

    Do you have any specific results you want to achieve?

    "I think figures are important. That includes more games I can participate in, more opportunities to stand on the batter's box and more times to go to the mound to pitch. I'll do what I can and look at the figures after the season to determine whether it was good or bad. I want to keep playing throughout the season in good health -- that will be at the top of my list."