Failing to describe the visceral delight of Shohei Ohtani’s Yankee Stadium week

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Shohei Ohtani Treated Image
Shohei Ohtani Treated Image

There’s little to say about Shohei Ohtani that isn’t reiteration or hyperbole, so let me just briefly try to record the visceral and aesthetic thrill of watching him hit a home run during his big week in New York.

Ohtani’s brief stay at Yankee Stadium has become the biggest show in town -- and oh, by the way, he’s pitching for the Angels tonight. Pitching. I know this sort of thing has been talked about a lot with him but to actually experience it is something else.

It was Monday evening, a little after 7 p.m., and people were settling into their seats. Ohtani came up with one out in the top of the first and worked a full count against Yanks starter Michael King.

Thank God I wasn’t fiddling with my phone or doodling on my scorecard when Ohtani swung at King’s hanging 3-2 curveball. If you’re not careful, you miss a lot at a game. Sometimes it's the big moments that you’ll never get back.

This time I saw the swing, heard the thwack of the bat and the whistling of the ball through the air --

(You know what? At this point, I should stop and concede how inadequate words are -- or at least my words -- in conveying the actual feeling, the undercurrent rippling through the air as the ball hurried over the right field wall. Thwack of the bat? Whistling of the ball through the air? This is not good enough.

The New Jersey poet William Carlos Williams wrote often about the failure of words. Here’s a bit from his book Paterson: “I am aware of the stream/that has no language, coursing/beneath the/quiet heaven of your eyes/which has no speech”

In Ohtani’s case, we’re not talking about his eyes. But in trying to convey the path of that ball through the air and into the seats, we most certainly are struggling with the stream that has no language. Neither prose nor poetry can match a white ball whizzing through the sky).

-- Anyway. I heard the thwack of the bat. Glancing to my left, I saw the scoreboard flash “117.1 MPH,” which turned out to be Ohtani’s top exit velocity of the season.

Newsday’s baseball columnist Dave Lennon, sitting next to me, said something like “Whoa,” or “Holy s—t,” and we buzzed about it for a while along with everyone else.

Even King had to laugh at himself. Asked after the game how he executed the curveball, he said, “Ha. Poorly.”

You see a lot of home runs from the press box. After almost all of them, you mark “HR” in your scorecard and take another sip of coffee. By the next day, you’ve forgotten every bit of it.

There are a select few hitters who make it look and sound different. Darryl Strawberry was apparently one of those. Giancarlo Stanton, who once hit a 121.1 mph homer -- the fastest yet recorded -- is another.

As colleague Anthony Recker reminded me on Tuesday in the SNY studio, his former Mets teammate Lucas Duda was a somewhat forgotten thundermaker. Manager Jerry Manuel once said that the sound of a ball off Duda’s bat reminded him of Henry Aaron and Moises Alou. It sounded like a ridiculous comparison on its surface but Manuel knew what he meant.

You have to be there. It doesn’t work on TV, and certainly not in print or online. You have to see it, hear it and feel it. You have to be one of the 20,000 or so people tilting your head up to follow the same ball and forgetting for a moment to think about living, dying and anything in between. It’s the only way to know.

On Tuesday, Ohtani hit two more. And did we mention that he’s pitching tonight?