As a lifelong Angels’ fan, Jay Paris remembers riding his bike as a kid down to what they used to call the “Orange Grove,” arriving early enough to watch his favorite players hit batting practice and staying put long after the game ended for an opportunity to chat and get some of his heroes’ autographs. So when he got the opportunity to write a book on this Japanese two-way phenom who was coming to the Angels, it was as if he was a dog and his owner threw a ball past his head; he went running after it excitedly and as fast as he could.
On Dec. 8, 2017, Shohei Ohtani agreed to the deal that made him an Angel. Because he didn’t wait until he was 25–Ohtani was23 and a half years old when he signed–he couldn’t maximize his financial situation and net a contract worth nearly $200 million. He was so excited to go to the majors that he accepted about half a million dollars annually, with a $2.315 million signing bonus.
Ohtani obviously could have waited a bit longer for much more money, but that’s Shohei. The phenom and budding superstar is a very humble man who holds the game of baseball in reverence, which explains why he’s so endeared by fans, coaches and teammates. He feels extremely lucky to be able to play baseball for a living. The man who wrote Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story of Baseball’s Two-way Japanese Superstar sort of feels the same way.
“To get a chance to write a book about the Angels, it was a thrill for me and for it to be about Shohei Ohtani, this unique player that no one’s really seen accomplish things that haven’t been accomplished for 100 years, since Babe Ruth did it,” says Paris, who then thinks back to his childhood as a Halos fan. “Being that little kid sitting in the stands, looking up at the press box all of those years and to be sitting up there writing about the Angels and to be able to walk into the team store and see a book you wrote with your name on it, it’s a pretty big thrill. I have much gratitude that I was able to do it, that’s for sure.”
Paris, who has upcoming appearances in Cypress, Anaheim and Irvine to promote his book, certainly had a one-of-a-kind subject. Being a two-way baseball player at the highest level professionally is unheard of these days. Normally, a player excels at either pitching or hitting and sticks to one or the other in the big leagues. That’s because there isn’t enough time to specialize in two contrasting positions, and playing both ways leaves one vulnerable to injuries. How rare is it? Babe Ruth was the last to do so a little more than 100 years ago, and even he eventually gave up pitching.
Ohtani has shown he can knock balls 500 feet out of the park and leave hitters frozen with fastballs whiffing by at 100 mph. When he began playing in Japan, he found a team that was able to foresee the future of his potential and they nurtured him to specialize in both parts of the game. The club was taking a big risk by doing so because players tend to hurt themselves a lot more by straining two parts of the body. But Ohtani was set on doing both and wasn’t going to sign with a team that didn’t want to attend to both aspects of his game. The big potential, vast talents and humble character Ohtani contained made him a superstar in Japan. The game is held in high reverence and baseball superstars are treated like kings in Ohtani’s home country. He could’ve lapped up that treatment, but he instead decided on being one of the guys. As a rookie, he could have stayed in a huge house, but he stayed with the rest of his younger teammates in a dormitory.
These are the types of things that drew Paris to the Ohtani story. The middle-aged author remembers when American baseball was well-respected by fans and players. He sees Ohtani as someone who, even though they are decades apart, has the same vision for the game that Paris does. The author was also intrigued by the attitude for the game that Ohtani shares with his fellow countrymen.
“The Japanese players, they treat the game with such reverence,” Paris says. “When they walk into these stadiums, they really do think they’re walking into cathedrals. They’re very appreciative to have these opportunities. [Ohtani’s] very last start against the [Houston] Astros, when he was coming out of the bullpen, here was his big return after missing 90 days with his [injured] elbow. He’s going to see if the elbow was going to hold up. He finishes his warmup in the bullpen and he starts walking into the dugout. He starts to walk about four or five strides and he stops and about 20 feet away there’s a little gum wrapper, a little white gum wrapper. He walked all the way over there, picked it up and put it in his back pocket and kept walking to the dugout. No other pro player would walk all the way over there to pick up a piece of trash, but these stadiums mean so much to him.”
As much as Paris has come to respect Ohtani after watching him in the bigs, the author actually first discussed a book on the two-way phenom with his Skyhorse Publishing in 2017, when the Angels were revealed as the winners of the Shohei sweepstakes. (The Dodgers, Giants, Padres, Mariners, Rangers and Cubs had also been in the running.) When the New York-based publisher began seeing the intrigue Ohtani was developing with his rare ability to successfully play both ways and his unique personality that had his teammates quickly accepting him as one of their own, Paris got the green light.
“They really dig Shohei,” the author said of Ohtani’s teammates. “[Mike] Trout put his arms around him right off the bat. I think those players recognized how much pressure this guy was under. Imagine coming over and saying you’re the Japanese Babe Ruth. That’s a pretty heavy title to have when you’re 23 years old. In addition to coming when he was 23, he left millions of dollars on the table by not waiting until he was 25 where he can sign more millions of dollars more, so I think that endeared him to his teammates. Right off the bat he’s doing all that and oh by the way, he throws at 100 [mph] and hits it 500 feet and gets down the line in four seconds. You go, ‘I want that guy on my team.’ He’s extremely popular in the club house, he’s one of the guys. They’re always flicking his ear, trying to untie his shoes, do anything like a little brother. I think that shows how much they like him.”
Through a few barriers like language and a lack of one-on-one time with Ohtani, Paris leaned on people in the Angels organization for insights. The author wound up turning the lack of personal time into a positive by gaining a much broader perspective, something every writer should look for.
“They kept him under a pretty good bubble,” Paris recalls. “You always want more time with a subject, any writer does, just like a coach always wants two or three more practices before a big game. You gotta do what you do. You learn in life that you try and get as much time with a person you can. If it’s restricted in any way, you talk to other people, general managers, managers, teammates in Japan, teammates he has now, announcers. In some ways you could get a fuller picture of who you’re writing about talking to so many other people. It gives your book a lot more voices. It’s just not Shohei’s voice.”
To get a bigger picture of who Shohei Ohtani is, you can pick up a copy of Paris’ book. It’s on bookshelves today and online through any major book retailer. Paris will also be making a few scheduled appearances to promote the book and answer any questions that readers have at Cypress Library on July 13, Anaheim Brewery on July 16 and the Barnes and Noble at the Irvine Spectrum on July 20. And for any youths out there, he has a message.
“To the kids, you could be Shohei, too; go for it. Here’s a guy who went for it. Go for it and dream big. Can you imagine sitting around being a Japanese player saying ‘I’m going to go to the Major Leagues to pitch and hit?’ Go for it and do it with a smile. … Some players look like they’d rather be anywhere but the ball field, but he’s always playing with a smile. It translates to kids who want to dream big or anybody in the corporate world. You don’t always have to do the status quo. Here’s a guy who did it his way because he had a big dream.”
Student of journalism; Cal State University Dominguez Hills. Two classes away from BA degree. Intern @ OC Weekly, summer 2019. Intern @ The Beach Comber Spring 2019. Contributing Writer for CSUDH Bulletin Fall 2018/Spring 2019. Contributing Writer at Random Lengths News, 2012-2016. The most misunderstood hidden treasure you’ll ever find. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.