Members of the media await the arrival of Angels baseball player Shohei Ohtani.
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“It has fully modified my life.” What it is like protecting Shohei Ohtani

Naoyuki Yanagiharas life principally revolves round Shohei Ohtani.

If he posts on his Instagram web page, Yanagihara writes about it. The place Ohtani travels for baseball, Yanagihara follows. Throughout spring coaching, if Ohtani is not already on the Tempe, Ariz., facility, he is ready for his automotive to return up.

Yanagihara, who writes for Sports activities Nippon, a Japanese newspaper that covers all sports activities, has lined Ohtani since 2013, his rookie 12 months with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.

Members of the media await the arrival of Angels Shohei Ohtani at Tempe Diablo Stadium in 2018.

(Ben Margot/Related Press)

Yanagihara doesn’t reside within the U.S. His house is in Tokyo, the place he lives along with his spouse and 9-month-old child for half the 12 months, spending the opposite half staying out of resorts within the U.S.

Daily I make a telephone name, a video name to my spouse, he stated. Round 7 or 8 pm, so it is morning in Japan. I all the time wrestle with jet lag.

That is the lifetime of a Japanese sportswriter who’s assigned to cowl the nation’s largest star taking part in in Main League Baseball. He is one in all dozens who, since Ohtani signed with the Angels in December 2017, has been to almost each recreation and day by day of spring coaching Ohtani is in.

And he’ll doubtless be one in all dozens who, relying on what occurs this season with the Angels, might observe Ohtani to a different metropolis if he indicators elsewhere in free company or strikes earlier than the season ends.

It has fully modified my life, she stated. I’ve to observe him nearly day by day, yearly.

Ohtani is extra widespread in Japanese media and tradition than Hideo Nomo, who spent practically seven of his 12 MLB seasons with the Dodgers. And Ohtanis even older than Ichiro Suzuki, who spent most of his 18-plus seasons within the huge leagues with the Seattle Mariners.

Ohtani isn’t just the most important star in baseball that the nation had his international attain already makes that time clear.

He’s a Japanese idol, an icon, Yanagihara stated.

Taking movies and pictures is essential to us [of him] as a result of he is so good-looking and funky and like a pop star, added Taro Abe, who has been on the Ohtani beat for the previous two years for one more Japanese every day, the Chunichi Shimbun.

Does that make him Japan’s BeyoncĂ©? Abe and one other author, Natsuko Aoike, who writes for Tokyo Sports activities, a Japanese tabloid, scoffed on the query.

Perhaps Ohtani, in Japan, is much more widespread than that.

In Japan, protection of baseball gamers is completely different than in america. Members of the media are permitted in every single place besides within the clubhouse. Relationships with gamers are constructed off the pitch. If a reporter wants to succeed in a participant, they are going to be ready for them, for instance, within the foyer resulting in the gamers’ parking zone. Attending to know a participant can embrace writers going to dinner with that participant or their households.

Angels' Shohei Ohtani, left, speaks to the media in baseball's spring training

Angels Shohei Ohtani, left, speaks to the media in spring coaching baseball in Tempe, Ariz., in 2019.

(Chris Carlson/Related Press)

Writers who safe this type of basis turn into knowledgeable writers in the identical approach {that a} US baseball author will be thought of a group member, besides the specialty is the data of a participant.

Yanagihara is that sort of author. And his paper requires him to jot down rather a lot about Ohtani. Final 12 months, it offered many of the protection for 53 newspaper entrance pages. Japanese sports activities writing is normally brief and to the purpose, so a narrative will be only a few sentences.

On the day Ohtani was launched in June 2019, Yanagihara wrote three-page newspaper tales.

I wrote till 9 am the following day, he stated. It was fairly loopy. After which I needed to go to the stadium at 12 midday, I had little time to sleep. Solely three hours.

This 12 months, due to Ohtanis’ participation within the World Baseball Basic with Japan, Yanagihara returned to Tokyo for just a little further time than traditional. He additionally flew to Miami for the semifinals after which will return to Tempe for the remainder of spring coaching when Ohtani and Samurai Japan are achieved within the WBC. Wherever Ohtani goes, Yanagihara might be there.

After all it is a robust job for me, Yanagihara stated as a baseball reporter. I all the time miss my household. However it’s my dream job.

Through the season, the group of Japanese writers and photographers seize pictures and movies of Ohtani doing every part from his pregame routine to easily strolling round or joking along with his different teammates.

This additionally occurs throughout spring coaching, although there are additionally information digicam operators who climb the hill overlooking the Tempe facility to movie his automotive going into the parking zone.

What they instructed me is that as a reporter protecting baseball, it’s important to look forward to them to return in after which wait till they arrive out, Aoike defined from the cameras on the mound. Aoike is a columnist primarily for Tokyo Sports activities but additionally freelances for different Japanese retailers protecting Ohtani.

So it is best to attempt to take video to ensure he arrives wholesome that day. You by no means know, proper? There could also be issues on the way in which or it could be late.

Additionally it is an indication of respect and professionalism in Japanese tradition to be on a discipline or facility whereas a participant is.

The media gathers in front of the Angels dugout as they wait for Shohei Ohtani to return from batting practice

The media gathers in entrance of the Los Angeles Angels dugout as they look forward to Shohei Ohtani to return from batting observe earlier than a baseball dwelling opener in opposition to the Oakland Athletics on Thursday, March 29, 2018, in Oakland, California.

(Ben Margot/Related Press)

The scene has been typical of each main Japanese star coming via the MLB since Nomo in 1995.

There’s quite a lot of media coming, they did not know what the media guidelines had been [here], Grace McNamee stated of her expertise working in public relations for the Dodgers when Nomo got here alongside. She at the moment works as a communications supervisor within the Angels’ public relations division, serving to to navigate the Japanese media that come to cowl Ohtani.

And it has been an academic course of for all of us, McNamee continued. I needed to create the media record to ship to the varied groups and Main League Baseball. I translated a few of the paperwork [from English to Japanese]comparable to membership guidelines.

The most important distinction between then and now with Ohtani, McNamee defined, is the tactic of communication. For instance, all requests for interviews throughout Nomos went via fax or mail, generally telephone calls. Now, he can ship a easy textual content message to a gaggle chat to assist relay details about interview occasions or schedules.

Most of the Japanese media that cowl Ohtani, comparable to Abe and Aoike, have lined a number of different Japanese baseball stars earlier than him. Aoike has been dwelling within the US since 2007, protecting Hideki Matsui as a reporter for Nippon TV. Since Matsui, he has additionally lined Suzuki when he was with the Yankees and Kenta Maeda, who spent 4 years with the Dodgers.

Kenta was one thing of a preparation for Shohei, Aoike stated. When Shohei occurred, instantly it was all about Shohei and so they requested me to go [the stadium] day by day.

Aoike, since transferring to the US, has returned to Japan to go to household a few times a 12 months, principally in January, when the low season is normally at its slowest. Her life is so rooted right here now, although despite the fact that her household is again in Japan, she feels extra at dwelling within the U.S. and is pushed by the trigger that covers Ohtani.

Her mom, who has since handed away, had pancreatic most cancers in 2018, Ohtanis’ first 12 months with the Angels. When Aoike visited her within the hospital, she noticed others watching him on TV.

I did not know the way a lot Shohei meant to different individuals, Aoike defined. I’ve pals who aren’t baseball followers who watch it. It’s a feeling that Shohei provides to the folks that makes me not obliged, however I wish to ship the story to the individuals of Japan.

However therein lies the distinction. Why do writers and photographers and videographers from Japan sacrifice a lot of their lives simply to cowl Ohtani.


Earlier than [Ohtani]it was only a job i attempted to do my finest now i wish to inform the tales to make some individuals really feel good [reading about him] that day, Aoike stated.

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