I didn’t think I’d get to watch the MLB All-Star game this year.
On Tuesday night, I was supposed to be in the cage behind home plate at Knute Nelson Memorial Park for an Alexandria Legion Baseball game. Our sports section takes almost every opportunity we can get for a story in the summer without high school athletics in season.
While it was frustrating that the doubleheader against Bemidji was rescheduled, I got to tune into the midsummer classic on TV.
Angel’s pitcher and designated hitter Shohei Ohtani is one of the best stories in sports right now. He leads all of baseball with 33 home runs and pitches every five games, and he’s pretty dang good. So good that baseball heads are dubbing him the modern-day Babe Ruth, who also played in the field and pitched.
What separates Ohtani from the players of old is how the game has changed. It’s far more demanding. Babe Ruth never saw a slider over 90 miles per hour or a fastball in triple digits. Ohtani has, and he throws those pitches too.
You can tell the story of Ohtani without words. All you have to do is point to the faces in the crowd every time he takes the field. What he’s doing is beyond rare; it’s mythical. It’s so unfathomable that it feels like you’re watching a movie take place in real-time.
There’s no telling what Ohtani will do throughout his career, but he could go down as one of the best to ever step on the diamond. But with every great story, it seems there’s a societal failure that follows.
Baseball has a marketing problem. For starters, the public thinks it’s a boring sport. The games take too long, and stale traditions of unwritten rules hold it back. Personality has long been frowned upon, and there is better entertainment out there for the younger and casual fans.
One of baseball’s conundrums has been its lack of a flag bearer. Who is the face of baseball? Guys like Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon have taken the torch from Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin in hockey. Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady are the most popular names in football. Guys like Lebron James and Kevin Durant have been these figures in basketball for over a decade. But who are these guys for baseball?
The argument over “Who is the face of baseball?” reached a boiling point this week, and Ohtani is in the middle of the discussion. But the ignorance of sports fans reared its ugly head.
Stephen A. Smith, an ESPN personality, claimed that Ohtani could never be the face of baseball because he doesn’t speak fluent English and isn’t marketable off the field. Facing backlash for those comments, he has since apologized and taken his verbal lashings on ‘First Take.” While he may have learned his lesson, it’s fallen on deaf ears of the people who need to hear it most.
Athletes have been stereotyped for their race and nationality for far too long. It’s a problem in every sport among all ages. Fans are quick to discredit or make assumptions about non-white athletes due to systemic biases or blatant racism. A prime example of this is Black hockey players and their struggles playing a white-dominated sport. What some white Americans refuse to stomach is inclusivity, which is what makes sports so pure.
Following the MLB All-Star game, Vladimir Gurrero Jr., a Canadian-Dominican first baseman, won Most Valuable Player. Liam Hendriks of Australia picked up the save for the American League. Ohtani, hailing from Japan, was the winning pitcher on the night.
As a sports writer, I can promise you that fans do not care what language a player speaks or where a player is from. Excellence in athletics is a universal language on a balanced playing field, and that’s what resonates with us more than anything.
It’s time for fans to take another step back and realize how damaging stereotyping can be in sports. While you might not like that you can’t understand what guys like Ohtani are saying or how he looks, kids around the globe see him as a hero.
Sports are the best when romanticized in their finest moments. Someday I’ll look back on these days and tell people that I got to watch one of the most talented athletes in the world do what no athlete has ever done. Put your biases aside and just appreciate what you have, even if it’s not white.
“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.