When Shohei Ohtani walked Jed Lowrie with four straight balls after losing his perfect game on Sunday, we were all reminded that he’s still a 23-year old rookie.
The Japanese phenom made his pitching home debut to a packed Angel Stadium against the Oakland A’s, striking out 12 batters through seven innings and 91 pitches, while allowing just one hit and one walk – both in the seventh. He earned the American League Player of the Week award for his efforts.
His body language nearly made it look like he was a tenured big-league veteran.
While showcasing his wide array of pitches, including a four-seam fastball that reached 100 mph, his nonchalant approach didn’t change throughout the first six innings, when he needed just 75 throws to retire every Oakland batter.
Much like we’ve come to expect from the Millennial Generation, Ohtani deadpans his way through baseball. With every stroke of his bat for a home run or every swing-and-miss he delivers, he has almost perfected the art of hiding his emotions.
After Marcus Semien singled to left field with one out in the top of the seventh, Ohtani tried to maintain his composure, but followed the hit with a four-pitch walk, and manager Mike Scioscia had to burn his first mound visit of the day.
Ohtani listened to pitching coach Charles Nagy’s instructions through an interpreter, letting out a wry smile before defaulting back to full-concentration mode.
He quickly retired the next two batters and exploded in a loud celebration on the mound at the end of the inning. Fans were left with that sight, as reliever Blake Wood took over in the eighth.
A blasé demeanour has been a trend among young ball players in the Majors – and Millennials in general. Just watch any Cody Bellinger clip from last year’s World Series loss with the Dodgers, or Aaron Judge’s reaction to his record-breaking 50th homer as a rookie with the Yankees.
Shohei’s reaction to getting out of the seventh inning was one of several sporadic reminders that, however mature these kids present themselves, they’re still developing.
Ohtani is a serious player. He’s focused and engrossed on every play, even when it technically doesn’t concern him. And he tries to keep a laid-back stance all the way through the game.
But he’s also the kid who demanded a celebration to his first homer when his teammates pranked him by pretending not to acknowledge the feat.
And what’s perhaps the biggest proof of his youthful mindset: instead of waiting until he was 25 years old and coming to the Majors with an unrestricted max contract, he decided to head to America right away, while still under the international signing rules, which allowed him to get a signing deal of only $3 million. Like a boy in the batting cages, he just wanted to play.
Between the pressure of being great and the natural tendency to be calm and collected, the league might be headed on a new direction. We might not see as many Nolan Ryan or Jose Bautista-type brawls – or Yadier Molina in last Sunday’s game.
Players like Shohei Ohtani can benefit from developing on an already high level of maturity. But until they are established veterans we will be reminded that the deadpan behaviour isn’t more than an act.