While folks in New York sifted through the remains of their indignity, settling finally on “It’s not me, it’s you,” which made it all better again, Japanese arm and hammer Shohei Ohtani went ahead Monday with his plan to have it both ways.
There is no real money involved, only lifestyle, opportunity, geography, proximity to home, intuition and baseball, which is not to say New York, Boston and the rest do not possess all or some of those virtues, only that they do not for a certain 23-year-old who throws right, bats left and gets to choose his own path.
By Monday, seven teams were presumed to fit Ohtani’s vision of his young adulthood, those being the Seattle Mariners, San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, San Diego Padres, Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs. They’d be invited to L.A. to meet with Ohtani, along with agent Nez Balelo and the rest of the dark-suit, open-collar CAA fellas, and think of it as a campus job fair with more spit cups but the same number of clumsy handshakes.
In the rest of the world, people generally live and work where they want. That’s what will happen here. One New York paper called Ohtani a chicken, all caps, and another called his decision to stay west and not love New York shocking (which, granted, it sort of was), and in a conference room in L.A. Ohtani got down to the business of the meets and greets. This, coincidentally, comes in the wake of another (smaller) series of the same, also in L.A., as Giancarlo Stanton heard out the Giants and St. Louis Cardinals (and perhaps the Dodgers) while being slowly booted from Miami, through no fault of his own. Stanton is, of course, restricted by the fact he is for the moment under contract with the Marlins, whose motivation is not to get out from under Stanton, but to get out from under Stanton’s contract, and so this rebuild effort that undoubtedly will entail acquiring the best players to play for the Marlins will start by offloading the best player in the National League. These are the Marlins, after all.
That the events overlapped in the same (non-New York) city was a fluke, except it further illuminates that one’s chance to select a baseball workplace comes along perhaps once or twice. Sometimes one gets it right. And sometimes one gets part of it right, like the $325 million part. And sometimes, even with the $325 million, one finds oneself sitting in an L.A. conference room thinking, “Well, that just happened.”
If there were breakthroughs in the Ohtani sweepstakes Monday they were confined to the client and his agent. Maybe the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres are favorites, and maybe nobody can resist the Chicago Cubs anymore, and maybe the Giants (who, according to NBC Sports Bay Area, were in the room with Ohtani on Monday and brought Buster Posey with them) are due a little good fortune, and maybe the Dodgers just buy the hotel and don’t let anybody out until they have a deal.
There was, however, broad acknowledgement that Shohei Ohtani is going to be his own man, not swayed by where people think he should play. He’s forfeited untold millions to come play here, and now. The least we can do is allow him to be underpaid where he wants, in a system he likes, in a city that speaks to him, at the end of a process that feels right to him. If that ends in San Diego, where his acclimation can find its own pace, or Seattle, or even L.A., and does not end somewhere in a pile of regret, then good for him and good for the game.
He is 23. He apparently is about to try something hardly anyone has. There’ll be new pitchers to hit, new hitters to get out, a whole new culture to discover. He could have done that anywhere. He chose seven (or 6½, between the Dodgers and Angels).
He’s not a chicken. He’s just a young man who knows what he wants, or thinks so today.
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