LOS ANGELES — As the question-and-answer portion of Thursday’s press conference at Dodger Stadium began, Shohei Ohtani inadvertently described the scene.
“I was told there was only media today, so I was not expecting this many people,” Ohtani said, through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara.
“It actually is only media,” Dodgers announcer Joe Davis said. “You’re that popular.”
It was a packed house in the centerfield plaza, with a horde of reporters and camera operators. On some level, Ohtani is used to this kind of attention, having been mobbed in Japan for a decade. In his six years with the Angels, a throng of reporters and photographers were around mostly to report on him.
But Thursday felt larger, though I guess that comes with the territory of a record-setting 10-year contract.
A common goal
Another difference between the Dodgers and Angels is success on the field. The Angels never had a winning season in six years with Ohtani. By date, the latest into a season the Angels were over .500 with Ohtani was August 19, 2021, with a 62-61 record.
The Dodgers have made the postseason 11 years in a row.
Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman praised, among other things, Ohtani’s ability to rise to the occasion both on the mound and at the plate during the World Baseball Classic in March, leading Japan to a tournament championship.
“The ability on the field is obvious. But as we went through process, to get a sense for just how passionate he is about this game really stood out to us,” Friedman said. “You could feel the importance of winning. We knew that winning a lot was going to be a really important thing to him as it came down to making his final decision.”
Ohtani joins a Dodgers team that has won 100 or more games in five of the last six full seasons, but also one that is looking for a spark after two stunning NLDS defeats in the last two seasons.
“There’s a lot of reasons [why I chose the Dodgers], but one thing that really stands out in my head is when I had the meeting with the Dodgers, the ownership group,” Ohtani said. “They said when they look back at the last 10 years, even though they’ve made the playoffs every single year, and won a World Series ring, they consider that a failure. When I heard that, I knew that they were all about winning.”
Ohtani has a clause in his contract that allows him to opt out after any season in which either Friedman or owner Mark Walter leave the Dodgers.
“Everybody has to be on the same page to have a winning organization. I feel like those two are at the top of it, and are in control of everything,” Ohtani explained. “It’s almost like I’m having a contract with those two guys. I felt like if one of them are gone, then we might not be on the same page and things might get a little out of control, so I just wanted a little safety net.”
The elbow surgery Ohtani had in September — both he and agent Nez Balelo said Thursday the procedure was not Tommy John surgery, which Ohtani had in 2018 — will keep him off the mound in 2024. But he expects to be ready to hit by the start of the season, which for the Dodgers is an early start next season, with games against the Padres on March 20-21 in Seoul.
“I’ve been taking dry swings in the last week, and I’m on a really good pace to get ready for opening day,” Ohtani said. “As long as I can get into spring training as scheduled and be able to play in exhibition games, I think I’ll be fully ready as a hitter for opening day.”
After the press conference, Ohtani was interviewed by Kirsten Watson on SportsNet LA about a variety of topics. At around the 2:10 mark, she asked if Ohtani was watching the Friday speculation about Toronto and/or flight tracking.
"The biggest goal is to win that World Series and personally I have not experienced the playoffs yet so that's one of the goals too."— SportsNet LA (@SportsNetLA) December 15, 2023
Postseason Ohtani is going to be fun to watch. pic.twitter.com/cy0RX0Ph1R
“I didn’t see the news itself, but people kept one asking me, ‘Are you flying to Toronto?’” he said. “I was aware of that whole situation, but I was on my couch with the dog at that time, too.”
Paws for effect
The great canine caper was solved in fitting fashion on Thursday. Despite his stardom, not a ton is known about Ohtani, who likes to keep his private life, well, private. But even a mundane detail like the name of his dog — the one who joined Ohtani during the MLB Network telecast when he was announced as the American League MVP — was unknown. Until Thursday.
The dog’s name is Decoy.
Ohtani further explained that he changed the name of the dog to Dekopin — which means, loosely translated, to poke in the forehead — to sound more Japanese.