Hernández: How a comic book character influenced Shohei Ohtani’s two-way domination

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He was Shohei Ohtani before Shohei Ohtani.

He was a southpaw from Japan who signed with Anaheim.

His fastball was timed at 102 mph. He was also a formidable hitter who threw a home run that crashed into a raised digital scoreboard.

His name was Goro Shigeno.

He was a fictional character, the protagonist of “Major”.

Ohtani was a fan of the popular comic book series, which was published in weekly installments by Shuukan Shonen Sunday magazine from 1994 to 2010, the year he signed up for Hanamaki Higashi High.

Now a two-way street player for the Angels, 26-year-old Ohtani has become a real-world Goro Shigeno.

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Ohtani stepped into the weekend as the Major League’s co-leader in the circuits, with 14, many of them of the comic book variety. In the last week alone, he managed three straight games, throwing a ball into the opposing field above the Green Monster one day and crushing a pitch that was several inches above the strike zone on another.

He struck out 45 batters in 30 1/3 innings, averaging 2.37 earned runs in six starts.

Japan might feel like an unlikely birthplace for the first two-way player in modern history, its pitchers and hitters known more for their sonic fundamentals than the overwhelming physiognomy needed to dominate on the mound and in the box. of the batter. Take a closer look, however, and it makes sense how the country produced an Ohtani.

Angels starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani kicks off Wednesday against Cleveland at Angel Stadium.

(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

A player like him couldn’t come from anywhere else.

The two-way player has been around in Japan for quite some time – it existed mostly in the realm of the imagination, but it did exist nonetheless. Ohtani was the physical embodiment of a concept that was already in the air.

So when the sequel to “Major” was about to begin in 2015, publisher Shuukan Shonen Sunday sought the endorsement of the player he had inspired.

“Goro’s passion made me love baseball even more,” read a quote from Ohtani that was included in a newspaper ad for “Major 2.”

The concept of a comic book character influencing an athlete probably sounds alien to anyone unfamiliar with the culture.

Comics, or manga, have unimaginable reach in the United States. The domain has a wide range of genres with some aimed at an older audience. There is also less line between adult and children’s entertainment in Japan, in part because there is no material outside of pornography that is considered inappropriate for audiences of certain ages. So when a manga, or an animated television series based on a manga, becomes popular, it penetrates virtually every segment of society.

The most popular comics are cultural touchstones.

Case in point: Ohtani’s walk-up song this year is the ending theme of the animated version of Jujutsu Kaisen, which is about a high school student who drives out supernatural forces. When Ohtani was in Japan during the offseason, he explained with a laugh, “I looked forward to Jujutsu Kaisen every week.

This is perfectly normal.

Shohei Ohtani has a hit against the Boston Red Sox on May 16.

Shohei Ohtani continues the blow against the Boston Red Sox on May 16.

(Michael Dwyer / Associated Press)

With clearly defined customs and ideals, Japanese culture can be extremely rigid. In academics and sports alike, the emphasis is particularly on repetition, which is why, for example, almost all Japanese baseball players are a superb bunter.

The comics provide an escape from what can be a stuffy environment. In the world of manga, anything is possible.

There are manga on pretty much everything from warriors to wine tasters, teachers to detectives, surgeons to chefs.

And, of course, the athletes.

Characters in sports-themed comics often have supernatural abilities. There are baseball fields disappearing, soccer shots burning the goal nets.

Life has often imitated art.

The manga “Slam Dunk” raised the profile of basketball, leading to the 2016 launch of Professional B League and a generation of players that includes Rui Hachimura of the Washington Wizards.

The most famous Japanese soccer player to date is Tsubasa Ohzora, who, like Goro Shigeno, is imaginary. There are three statues of him in the Katsushika district of Tokyo where creator Yoichi Takahashi was born.

Tsubasa Ohzora was shown at a comic book exhibition in Tokyo in 2002.

Tsubasa Ohzora, a Japanese anime character, was shown at a comic book exhibition in Tokyo in 2002.

(Toshifumi Kitamura / AFP via Getty Images)

Established in 1981, Ohzora popularized football in Japan, but its impact was not limited to its home country. The animated TV series based on ‘Captain Tsubasa’ has been translated into other languages ​​and influenced Lionel Messi, Zinedine Zidane and Alessandro Del Piero to play football.

Japanese and American football developed in parallel, with the opening of J League in 1993 and Major League Soccer in 1996. Historically, the United States has sent a relatively balanced mix of players to Europe in terms of of positions. Japan exports a disproportionate number of attacking midfielders, which, coincidentally or not, was Ohzora’s position.

But as far as Hidetoshi Nakata has accomplished and as many promises as 19-year-old Takefusa Kubo has shown, no Japanese player has come close to matching Ohzora.

This is what makes Ohtani different.

What he does now is unprecedented, even in the manga world.

In “Major,” Shigeno won two Cy Young Awards and a World Series. He pitched and hit professionally, but not at the same time. He only became a hitter after injuring his shoulder.

In this case, the reality turned out to be more spectacular than the fiction.

Shigeno, however, retains an advantage. When he launched into the majors, he was on his second arm. He became a left-handed pitcher after blowing his right shoulder in grade school.



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