During his historic 2021 season, Shohei Ohtani saw a meteoric rise in his popularity in the United States. He went from a player filled with potential, but marred by injuries, to a household name in the baseball world, and the headlining story nearly every day of the season.
He broke records on a near daily basis and amazed with his unhittable splitter and 470-foot towering home runs en route to a unanimous MVP award. And perhaps no one got a closer seat to the madness that Ohtani’s interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara.
Mizuhara has become somewhat of a fan favorite among Angels supporters, always standing by Ohtani’s side when he’s not actively playing baseball. The two go all the way back to Ohtani’s rookie season in Japan, when Mizuhara was the team translator for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.
And according to Mizuhara, Ohtani’s fame in Japan is unlike anything he’s ever seen, calling him potentially the most famous person in the entire country, via Daniel Riley of GQ:
“At this point, I think he’s in his own category,” Ippei says when I ask him about Shohei’s fame in Japan relative to other athletes, movie stars, musicians, and politicians. “After the season he had, I really feel like there’s probably not one single person that can match his popularity right now. I heard a lot of people say that Shohei himself was a bigger attraction than the Olympics in Japan. The best part of the pandemic. I hear a lot of people wake up to watching Shohei. He’ll hit a home run and it’ll just lighten up the whole country. He just made their day, made it easier for them to go to work in the morning.”
In the United States, where professional athletes are plentiful and celebrities roam the streets with regularity, it’s rare for one person to reach that level of fame. But in Japan, where true worldwide professional athletes are less common, Ohtani stands out as an outlier.
Angels broadcasts are commonplace in Japan, usually taking place in the late mornings and early afternoons. Except the Japanese broadcasts of Angels games have a dedicated Ohtani camera that follows him around anytime he is visible.
According to Riley’s piece, there are also 20 full-time Japanese reporters whose sole jobs are to cover Ohtani. There is perhaps no one on Earth who garners that level of attention at all times.
Ohtani very quickly became anointed as the face of baseball, and in 2022, he and the Angels are hopeful to see that meteoric rise continue with the help of some greater team success.
Ohtani predicts 10 at-bats against himself
Ohtani went into great depth when detailing how it might go if the Angels star faced off against himself as a pitcher. The final results were 2-for-9 with a homer, a double, a walk, a groundout, a flyout, and five strikeouts.