Shohei Ohtani's hitting and pitching exploits are truly incredible
By Ben Verlander
FOX Sports MLB Analyst
Shohei Ohtani is doing things this season in Major League Baseball that haven’t been done in more than 100 years.
Things that haven't been done since … Babe Ruth.
Ohtani is one of the best hitters the Angels have.
Ohtani has also been the best pitcher the Angels have this season.
People throughout sports are talking about Shohei Ohtani.
But why? What makes this so special? Let me explain.
Out of high school, I signed with Old Dominion University in Virginia to continue my playing career. I signed there, in large part, because they were going to let me be a two-way player.
I was going there to be a position player. I was also going there to be a pitcher.
It quickly became apparent that I was an outlier. Nobody else was doing this. There weren’t even many players in Division I baseball as a whole that were both pitching and hitting.
At both the college and the professional level, practices are fairly similar in the sense that the two groups, pitchers and position players, are both separated for the majority of practice.
This is where it started getting difficult. I had to choose how to allocate my time.
What group was I going to go into the gym with that day? When was I going to take batting practice? When was I going to get in my bullpen? Do I run with the pitchers? Do I take infield/outfield with the position players? Or do I join the pitchers for PFPs (Pitchers Fielding Practice)?
All of that is happening at the same time. While pitchers are throwing bullpens, position players are taking batting practice.
When it came to me, the one guy on the team who was trying to do both, I found myself cutting corners and picking and choosing what I thought was most important and going to do that.
It is double the work and ends up being a lot of running all over the place trying to do what you think is best.
I ended up being very average at both and not thriving at either. For the first two years of my college career, it was a big struggle.
After my sophomore year, I sat down with my head coach and we decided I needed to pick one. "You aren’t going to get drafted as both. You should pick one and dedicate all of your time to that," he told me.
So, I did just that. I decided to become a full-time position player. I dedicated my entire summer to being the best hitter I could be, and when I got back to school, all of my time was focused on only doing just that.
That year was the best year of my life and I became an All-American outfielder.
It is almost impossible to do both really well at the college level. To do both at an ELITE level, at the highest level in the world, is the coolest thing I can recall seeing in baseball.
After I got drafted, I was in the Detroit Tigers organization and spent many years in professional baseball.
I honestly can’t comprehend how a player is able to do both at that level. I can’t fathom how you divide your time and do everything you need to. Being a professional position player or a professional pitcher is a full-time job. Doing BOTH on a full-time basis? My mind is blown.
You are constantly separated from each other. Constantly locked in on your specific craft and doing things to get better at that craft.
It literally seems impossible to do what Ohtani is doing at the highest level of the game. Before him, I would’ve told you it was impossible to be an All-Star caliber player on the mound and as a hitter.
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Ohtani really is the "Japanese Babe Ruth" as he was dubbed when he was being courted by teams to play here in the States.
Had Ohtani come up playing baseball in America, I truly don’t think he would be doing what he is today. Had he immediately come over to America before playing professionally in Japan, I don’t think he would be able to do what he is doing today.
The fact that he became a two-way superstar in Japan while playing for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters is what earned him that opportunity to try and do it over here.
In the U.S. professional system, he likely would have been asked to specialize as either a pitcher or position player.
The minute Ohtani got to the majors, it was clear he could play both ways at a high level. In 2018, he was named the American League Rookie of the Year.
Unfortunately, injuries kept holding him back and limiting his time on the mound and caused fans of baseball to question if he could actually do this. Or should do this. Too valuable a hitter to risk getting hurt pitching. Too valuable a pitcher to risk getting hurt hitting.
Well, this season, we are getting the best version of Ohtani. The starting pitcher throwing over 100 mph is also batting at the top of the lineup and hitting bombs.
What we are seeing is special. You should care every time he takes the field. We should enjoy it while it’s happening.
Who knows how long we will get to watch this, but I hope it’s a long time. We will be telling our kids and our grandkids about watching Shohei Ohtani play baseball.
This year, Ohtani finds himself as one of the best hitters in the league. He’s tied for third in MLB in home runs (10) and sports an .877 OPS.
The work that goes into this behind the scenes is more than anyone can fathom.
That is why I get so excited every time he takes the mound and every time he demolishes a baseball, because I know how hard it is for him to have gotten to this point in his baseball career.
Of course, he is blessed with more talent in his pinky finger than most could ever dream of having. However, the amount of work and preparation that has gone into it is something to admire.
It has been years of putting in double the work. Years and years of people telling him to pick one or the other so he can be the best at it, so that he doesn’t get hurt, so that he can prolong his career.
He’s not listening.
Not only is he proving them all wrong this year, but he’s also propelling the sport of baseball to new heights because of how exciting he is.
Every time Ohtani takes the field, I get the chills.
What he is doing is a dream come true for many, and he’s getting to play out that dream in front of our eyes.
Ben Verlander is an MLB Analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the "Flippin' Bats" podcast. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Verlander was an All-American at Old Dominion University before he joined his brother, Justin, in Detroit as a 14th-round pick of the Tigers in 2013. He spent five years in the Tigers organization. Follow him on Twitter @Verly32.