For Japanese Americans in Orange County, Shohei Ohtani is already their MVP


Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani put the finishing touches to a historic season for the ages during his team’s final home game, right where he unfolded his incomparable skills – on the hill and on the plate.

The two-way phenomenon scored 10 strikeouts against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday, lowering its ERA to 3.18-23 starts; As a batter, Ohtani added a single to complement an offensive campaign fueled by 45 home runs.

Angel fans serenaded Ohtani with “MVP” chants to round off a season that many passionately argue is deserving of the highest honor in the American League.

For Japanese Americans in Orange County, Ohtani’s pre-eminent talents, who have drawn comparisons to Babe Ruth, are more than MVP-worthy; You are a point of pride.

“He’s definitely a ray of hope in our community,” said Kihei Otani, president of Orange County, the Japanese-American Association. “Japanese Americans here are all excited to see him play. I can’t imagine a Japanese American not supporting him and not going to his games to support him. “

The excitement for “Shotime” drove Otani to more fishing ball games this season than fans returned to the stands.

He didn’t get the chance to meet the famous ball player with the same last name but the OC Japanese American Assn. attended a pre-game Japan Day celebration at Angel Stadium in 2019, where Ohtani made a special appearance.

One of Otani’s friends also shared how he recently met the bat (and ace) while at a Japanese market in OC. Has bought groceries

“Oh hello,” Ohtani said politely when he was spoken to.

“I hope he keeps his reserved, down-to-earth personality,” said Otani.

Since first signing with the Angels in December 2017, the superstar’s arrival has resonated with Japanese immigrants in Southern California like Otani.

But as an ethnic group, Japanese Americans have had deep roots in the OK for decades, particularly as farm laborers and farmers in the early 20th century who participated in American pastimes.

“Baseball was one of the earliest organized sports among Japanese Americans in Orange County,” said Mary Adams Urashima, writer and local historian of the OC’s Japanese-American heritage. “The first known Japanese American baseball team here was formed around 1924 by the Smeltzer Athletic Club in north Huntington Beach with Nisei players, most of them under the age of 17 in Wintersburg Village, north of Huntington Beach.”

Bonshichi Yoshimura and Masami Fujino, two Japanese-American players for the Orange Groves in the 1920s.

(Courtesy Lawrence de Graff Center for Oral and Public History, California State University, Fullerton)

Subject to the prejudices of the time, the Orange Groves were excluded from the Huntington Beach District League and subsequently played against ethnic teams from other cities.

During World War II, Japanese Americans carried a love of the game with them when they were forced into detention camps; Baseball became a lifeline behind barbed wire.

“The importance of baseball as a touchstone during this period still resonates in the Japanese-American community today,” added Urashima.

After the end of World War II and incarceration camp policies, the OCO Club formed as part of a wider, sporting haven for Japanese-American youth who continued to be excluded from other leagues. It was re-established in 1988, and while the Santa Ana-based nonprofit is more focused on basketball, its young athletes are still crazy about Ohtani.

“My own cousin’s kids watch him play all the time,” said Lily Kozai, board member of the OCO Club. “You have his jersey and you want to go to fishing games. The same applies to many other young people in our club and in the community. ”

Ohtani’s excellence in baseball diamond is more than just a source of inspiration – it’s an opportunity to teach life lessons. Pastor Dr. Mutsumi Wondra gave a Dharma lecture entitled “Shohei Mandala: Repetitive Practice Becomes Good Habit” last week at Anaheim’s Orange County Buddhist Church.

Wondra, who grew up in a Shin Buddhist family in Japan, researched the ball player’s life story and was interested in the dream matrix he had developed as a teenager. Ohtani wanted to be the top draft pick in the Nippon Professional Baseball League, showed how to improve in a mandala-like fashion, and achieved so in 2012 when he was selected by the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.

“I realized that I can combine Shohei and a lesson on Buddhism by writing a Dharma message,” said Wondra. “When I share this mandala methodology with teenagers or even adults, it’s fun.”

The children who were present at Wondra’s Dharma lecture were attentive, nodded when they said the most important things, and pulled out their smartphones to do research on the spot.

“It was kind of depressing because of COVID,” said Wondra. “We appreciate Ohtani and applaud him for being like a light that is switched on in the dark.”

For Japanese Americans, Ohtani’s one-of-a-kind talents brought such joyful moments on and off the pitch during an otherwise dismal pandemic of the century.

Dennis Masuda proudly wears his No. 17 Shohei Ohtani baseball cap.

Dennis Masuda proudly wears his No. 17 Shohei Ohtani baseball cap.

(Courtesy Dennis Masuda)

Dennis Masuda, a longtime Angel fan and 17-year-old season ticket holder, attended 60 home games this year and proudly followed Ohtani’s historic achievements. “I don’t see many Japanese players,” he said. “The last time the angels had one was Hideki Matsui 11 years ago. Having someone on my home team as a pitcher and hitter was pretty exciting. “

The retired Marina High School instructor and coach marveled at the starting speed of the racquet’s home runs, followed by his championship on the hill. And he wasn’t alone.

“It’s really noticeable how many Japanese are still [fans] are in the ballpark now, ”said Masuda. “Most of the signs promoting Shohei are all in Kanji. I laugh because if someone opened a sushi stand in the stadium they’d make a million dollars! “

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