The Sho-man: Shohei Ohtani homers in his long-awaited spring debut for Dodgers

'We’re trending in the right direction,' the $700 million man said afterward

GLENDALE, Ariz. — It was no ordinary day at Camelback Ranch on Tuesday. More than 30 credentialed media members, dozens of camera people, a packed crowd and even more fans stood around the ballpark waiting to watch baseball’s biggest attraction.

Shohei Ohtani's debut had finally arrived, with him set to fill the No. 2 spot in the Dodgers’ lineup, and with each passing minute leading up to first pitch, it felt like something special was about to happen.

As is often the case, the two-time MVP didn’t disappoint in his first game as a Dodger. In his third and final at-bat of the day, the $700 million man lifted a two-run, opposite-field homer, giving everyone in the vicinity exactly what they came for.

“I thought I hit it too high, initially. But being in Arizona factored in a little bit," Ohtani said afterward of his first homer of the spring. "… Definitely felt good at the plate. I felt better each time I got up.

"We’re trending in the right direction.”

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“It's remarkable. It really is,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said postgame. “Obviously, there's been so many huge moments for him in his career, and he always seems to rise to those moments. Even his first live [batting practice] session here, he hits a home run, right? And so, his first game as a Dodger playing against other competition, he homers.

“I just have a good feeling that there's more to come.”

In total, Ohtani went 1-for-3 with a homer and two RBI in his Cactus League debut, with the Dodgers earning a 9-6 victory over the White Sox. In his first two at-bats, Ohtani struck out and grounded into a double-play. He batted second between Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, giving the baseball world its first glimpse of L.A.’s new-look lineup. Roberts said he wants to experiment with Betts, Ohtani and Freeman hitting 1-2-3 for a few weeks before the season begins.

“I think once we signed Shohei, as a manager, you start trying to formulate a lineup and see how it looks on paper, and you get a big glow on your face when you look at Ohtani, Freeman and Betts,” Roberts said. “Just seeing Shohei in the lineup certainly makes us a lot better. It’s been quite the anticipation.”

Even before the game Tuesday, the energy throughout the Dodgers’ complex was palpable. Players, team personnel and fans knew it was a special day — and the beginning of what they hope is a special era of baseball in L.A.

Ohtani was greeted by an ovation from fans as he walked out to join the team for morning stretch and again as he jogged between the backfields. Later in the day, dozens of fans, from the left-field foul pole all the way down the third-base line to the Dodgers dugout, waited to see Ohtani walk onto the field before first pitch.

He showed his appreciation with the two-run blast and received one more round of raucous applause before leaving the game.

“Definitely felt the energy of the crowd and the fans. I really appreciated it,” he said. “I was just really happy that I was able to make it back in time so I could play in front of the fans.

“Not really any nerves because it’s a spring training game,” he added of his Dodgers debut. “Just more focused on getting ready for the season and do what I gotta do.”

The performance marked another step forward for Ohtani as he continues to rehab from his second UCL surgery and ramp back up his hitting in games. If his spring debut proved anything, it’s that he already looks ready for another big season. The Dodgers begin the regular season in three weeks against the San Diego Padres in Seoul, South Korea.

Tuesday also represented a condensed version of the increased attention from both media and fans that awaits the Dodgers in 2024. As the regular season approaches, the crowds and the spotlight will only increase, and they’re unlikely to wane as long as No. 17 is wearing Dodger blue.

“I think it's a little bit of a primer,” Roberts said. “But this is exciting, and if we're not excited about today, then I don't know what any of us are doing here.”