By Jason Cruz
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Welcome to another edition of The Layup Drill. In this edition, we take a look at Japan’s dominance during the World Baseball Classic, a new Red Sox player, and Suni Lee focusing on Paris 2024.
Team Japan and the best player on earth
Shohei Ohtani was the greatest player in professional baseball during the World Baseball Classic. Ohtani led Team Japan to the World Baseball Classic and was the obvious choice for the tournament’s most valuable player.
Not only was Ohtani in the batting lineup during the championship game against the United States, he was the relief pitcher closing out the game against his Los Angeles Angels teammate, Mike Trout. Ohtani struck out Trout using his overpowering fastball and then a bendy slider that left the future hall of famer, and one of the best hitters in the game, swinging and missing. Ohtani, who rarely shows any significant emotion even when he wins, threw his hat and glove in celebration as he was mobbed in jubilation by his teammates.
Japan’s win over the United States this year marked its third World Baseball Classic championship, the most out of any country since the first tournament in 2016.
Notably, the Japanese team, which cruised through most of the World Baseball Classic tournament with wins over China, South Korea, and Australia, had to come from behind to defeat Mexico to make it to the tournament final.
One of the most interesting things during the World Baseball Classic was the politeness of the Japanese fans. After Ohtani’s first home run during World Baseball Classic pool play, the fan that caught the ball granted other fans a look at the ball. Cameras picked up fans calmly passing it around so they could hold and take pictures of it before returning it.
The warmness also included the 6-foot-4 designated hitter/pitcher Ohtani in an early round game against the Czech Republic. Ondrej Satoria, who started the game against Japan, has a full-time job as an electrician. Unlike Ohtani and most of the Japanese players, his full-time job is not baseball. However, in the game, Satoria managed to strike out Ohtani. Team Japan went on to win but the day after, Sartoria met Ohtani and presented him with a Czech jersey signed by the entire team. Ohtani posted on social media with the word ‘Respect’ followed by the Czech flag acknowledging the team.
As the Major League Baseball season started in late March, Ohtani is one of the top players considered to be the most valuable player in the American League. Ohtani and the Angels visited Seattle during the opening weekend. Prior to the game, Ohtani and Ichiro Suzuki met once again. Ohtani, who was just 7 years old when Ichiro made his Major League Baseball debut with the Mariners, bowed to his boyhood hero. Later that night, Ohtani hit a go-ahead, two-run home run blast as the Angels beat the Mariners.
Yoshida joins Red Sox
In the offseason, the Boston Red Sox signed Masataka Yoshida of the Orix Buffaloes in the Nippon Professional Baseball League to a five-year, $90 million deal. The contract is the largest ever for a Japanese position player. Yoshida, who was Ohtani’s teammate during the World Baseball Classic, was a top baseball star in Japan and will likely be a star in the U.S. At only 5-foot-8 and 176 pounds, the outfielder still has a lot of power.
The 29-year-old’s favorite player is Bryce Harper and in honor of this, he wears the number 34. However, since the Red Sox have the number 34 retired for David Ortiz, Yoshida is wearing number 7 this season.
Kidney issue ends Lee’s collegiate career
Tokyo Olympics gymnast and gold medalist Sunisa Lee announced that she is ending her collegiate gymnastics career early at Auburn University due to a kidney issue. Lee stated that she would still be pursuing the 2024 Summer Games in Paris and would be focusing on training for it. Lee won the all-around gold in Tokyo prior to her collegiate career at Auburn.
Lee competed for Auburn for the past two years but due to her kidney issue, she announced that she will forgo the rest of her eligibility. In a social media post, Lee wrote, “[f]or my safety, the medical team did not clear me to train and compete over the last few weeks. I am blessed and thankful to be working with the best specialized medical team to treat and manage my diagnosis. My focus at this time is my health and recovery.”
Jason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.