Ohtani Makes South Korean Fans Forget Rivalry With Japan

Ohtani Makes South Korean Fans Forget Rivalry With Japan

Shohei Ohtani is a soft-spoken, 6-foot-4 powerhouse. He is a unicorn: one in every of baseball’s greatest hitters and pitchers, the primary to dominate each in practically a century. He would possibly in the future be thought of the best ever to play the sport.

He’s additionally from Japan, the previous colonizer of South Korea. The nations’ relationship remains to be marked by pressure and intense rivalry. But that hasn’t stopped South Korean baseball followers from idolizing a fellow East Asian participant whose achievements are so uncommon they practically defy creativeness.

Fans say they admire his mix of understated attraction and herculean athletic prowess, which earned him a report $700 million to play with the Los Angeles Dodgers for 10 years.

When he landed in Seoul on Friday for a collection of video games that can open the Major League Baseball season, he was greeted on the airport by a crowd resembling one that may arrive for a Ok-pop idol.

“It doesn’t matter if he’s from Japan,” Yoo Jee-ho, a veteran South Korean sports activities journalist. “If you’re a baseball fan, you recognize that form of expertise.”

For what’s being billed because the Seoul Series at Gocheok Sky Dome, tickets quickly bought out to see the 29-year-old phenom play for his new crew, the Dodgers. The collection will embrace the primary common season M.L.B. video games in South Korea, with the Dodgers enjoying the San Diego Padres on Wednesday and Thursday.

When Kim Sohye, a 15-year-old from Busan, arrived in Seoul for the Dodgers’ exhibition sport in opposition to a South Korean crew on Sunday, the very first thing she did earlier than getting into the stadium was to buy a Shohei Ohtani jersey.

“He’s good-looking,” she stated, laughing shyly and blushing just a little. “He’s tall, and he’s actually good at baseball.”

Ohtani’s 2023 season was one for the ages. He struck out his then M.L.B.-teammate, Mike Trout, to steer Japan to victory on the World Baseball Classic.

A fan on Reddit described Ohtani as “not a human” after his feats on the match, which included crushing a double at 118 miles per hour, a feat of unbelievable power, and stealing third base, which requires exceptional velocity.

“What he is ready to do looks as if it must be not possible,” the fan wrote.

His season ended early due to an harm to his throwing elbow. Still, he grew to become the primary participant to unanimously win baseball’s Most Valuable Player Award twice, which he celebrated in typical low-key trend by high-fiving his canine on digicam and never chatting with the media.

When Ohtani performed in his new crew colours on Sunday in opposition to the Kiwoom Heroes, Lee Suhyeon, 41, was there.

“I barely acquired a ticket after another person canceled,” stated Lee, a longtime baseball fan from Daegu, a metropolis about two hours from Seoul, who had by no means cheered for a Japanese athlete earlier than. He managed to safe a seat for $45.

“It’s not nearly his ability,” Lee stated, “but additionally his character, his angle, his thoughts management, his professionalism.”

South Koreans’ embrace of Ohtani coincides with thawing diplomatic relations with Japan. President Yoon Suk Yeol introduced final yr that South Korea would cease demanding reparations from Japan for wartime pressured labor. Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, then traveled to Seoul for a bilateral assembly, the primary such go to in 12 years.

And possibly the sting has lastly begun to fade from South Korea’s loss to Japan within the 2009 World Baseball Classic championship.

“Japan and Korea, they’ve at all times had a fantastic rivalry,” Ohtani acknowledged at a information convention in Seoul on Saturday. “I’ve at all times watched the video games between Japan and Korea,” he added, “and at all times revered, regarded as much as Team Korea and the Korean gamers.”

Ohtani was beforehand within the South Korean capital as a part of Japan’s 18-and-under crew when it performed on the earth championship in 2012. South Korea was “one in every of my favourite international locations” on the time, he stated, and he was glad to return.

At least a number of the demand for tickets for the video games in Seoul is fueled by followers of the South Korean gamers who’re returning house, just like the Padres’ Ha-Seong Kim, who final yr grew to become the primary Asian-born infielder to win a Gold Glove, given to one of the best fielder at every place in every league. Many South Koreans are additionally followers of the Dodgers, for which Chan Ho Park, the star pitcher, as soon as performed.

But the South Korean fervor for the Japanese star is actual. A YouTube quick about Ohtani on a South Korean fan’s account was considered a minimum of 5.9 million occasions.

South Korean gamers have praised him, too. “What units Ohtani aside is his psychological power,” stated Park, the previous Dodger, in accordance with The Japan Times. “Now now we have some nice younger gamers in Korea who’re aspiring to be like Ohtani.”

The rivalry between Japan’s and South Korea’s nationwide baseball groups has been one of many fiercest in any sport. South Korean followers have lengthy seen Japan as a goal to be surpassed.

Attitudes towards Ohtani stand in sharp distinction to how followers would possibly bear in mind Japan’s Ichiro Suzuki, a star participant twenty years in the past that South Korean followers regularly booed.

“Ichiro has stated some issues that Korean followers didn’t like,” stated Yoo, the South Korean sports activities journalist. In distinction, Ohtani has been “fairly respectful,” he stated. “I feel Korean followers recognize the form of expertise that he’s. I don’t assume there’s a whole lot of hatred towards this man.”

Aspiring South Korean baseball gamers have additionally considered Ohtani as a hero who has defied Western stereotypes of Asian athletes, in accordance with Barney Yoo, the director of worldwide operations on the Korea Baseball Organization, which governs South Korea’s prime league.

“There’s a stereotype, which is likely to be partly primarily based on fact, that there’s a sure barrier that Asian gamers can not overcome,” Yoo stated. “But Ohtani is writing new historical past,” he added. “He’s given a whole lot of motivation and hope.”



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