CREENAN: Getting the Shohei Ohtani experience

May 11—Baseball was never my favorite sport. Even as I try paying attention to it more as I age, I still cannot completely get into it.

I never grew up with any true baseball team allegiance, which I suppose happens when you grow up in a minor league city. I played Little League over elementary school summers, but I was one of those kids who did not hit well and would stay in the outfield minding my own business.

I have gone to games, but they were mainly part of already-planned trips to New York City and Pittsburgh. The closest team I do follow is the Detroit Tigers only because I worked in Michigan for three years and couldn't root too hard for the other Detroit teams, having been to three games at Comerica Park.

Even if I was not spending two hours every day in the summer watching a game, I would occasionally check in just to see which teams were doing well. In that, I kept seeing a name pop up over and over again, Shohei Ohtani.

This was in 2021 when stories comparing Ohtani to Babe Ruth were all over the sportsphere. The one player who could both pitch and hit consistently at the highest levels to be named American League MVP in 2021. The press coverage I followed was not as hyperbolic as he focused more on hitting, but it was still worth following because he was being so great on a Los Angeles Angels team doing so much losing. That he also rose to heights in America unlike any other Japanese player makes it more impressive.

Still, the effort in trying to see this player spurred my interest, though Angels appearances near Western New York were mostly during the week. After Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for a mammoth 10-year, $700 million contract, I had to look up the Toronto Blue Jays schedule for another chance. Sure enough, there was a three-game series over the last weekend of April. It was a no-brainer.

I had previously been to one game at the then-SkyDome when I was six or seven, only remembering the dome being open, it was against the Yankees, and my family went to the Hockey Hall of Fame afterward. The last time I was in Rogers Centre, it was in its football configuration as the University of Buffalo took on Connecticut in a 2009 bowl game. Now that it was just for the Blue Jays, subsequent renovations gave it a better baseball feel and a lower capacity.

My seat was along the first base line, intentionally being close to the opposing fans. It did not take into account that it would be smack dab in the middle of the traveling hardcore Dodger fan section, cheering on every player and starting competing chants with the Blue Jays fans.

With my fill of stadium poutine and non-Canadian brand beer, the sold-out crowd got what it wanted to see, the Dodgers' superstars and the hometown team trying to rebound from a 12-2 loss.

It did not take Ohtani long to make his presence, because he was second in the batting rotation. With every step up to the plate, the crowd's boos reverberated off the closed roof, as he spurned Toronto for the Dodgers, against the cheers for him from my section. Two Japanese flags could be spotted in sections across the field even when he was not up. His physique looked bigger than some of the other players, but he still had a humble presence.

While the Dodgers as expected had plenty of firepower with their balls constantly reaching the outfield, there were no home runs. Ohtani only had one hit the whole game, as Mookie Betts had a better showing with three. The Blue Jays were mostly abysmal, though they made it interesting enough late for me to stay until the Dodgers got the final out, winning 4-2.

Game 4 of the Bruins-Maples Leafs series was happening down the street at the Scotiabank Arena that night, so traffic added an hour to the drive home. It was more time to think about when I would try to see the Dodgers again.