Shohei Ohtani's record Dodgers deal celebrated by fans in Japan

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Sunday, December 10, 2023

TOKYO -- Now that Shohei Ohtani has his money -- a record $700 million, 10-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers -- some fans in Japan are waiting for one more thing to complete the deal.

"I want Ohtani to play in the World Series," said Isshin Watanabe, a baseball fan speaking Sunday near Tokyo's famous Ginza shopping area. "That's my hope."

Baseball fans across Tokyo lined up Sunday to buy special editions of the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, announcing Ohtani's move across town from the Angels to the Dodgers.

Fans in Japan's northeastern prefecture of Iwate, where Ohtani grew up and went to high school, also celebrated by buying extra editions of the local newspaper, the Iwate Nippo.

"I've been following Ohtani since his high school years," Asihisa Suzuki told Japan's news agency Kyodo. "I want to cheer him wherever he is."

Kyodo reported that fans gathered at Ohtani's high school, named Hanamaki Higashi, and took photographs of a monument that shows his handprint.

This is perhaps the largest contract in sports history, topping highs believed to have been set by soccer stars Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé.

Ohtani's contract is the largest in Major League Baseball history by more than $250 million, surpassing former Angels teammate Mike Trout's 12-year, $426.5 million deal. It also easily topped the $450 million deal signed byKansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, which at the time was the largest in North American professional sports history.

Ohtani's $70 million average annual salary eclipses the previous MLB record of $43.3 million for Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer and is more than the 2023 Opening Day payrolls of the Baltimore Orioles ($60.9 million) and Oakland Athletics ($56.9 million).

One fan in Japan noted that Ohtani's salary also is more than the entire player payroll for at least one Japanese professional team, using the SoftBank Hawks of Fukuoka as the example.

"That sounds like a dream," said Yuto Manabe, also speaking in Ginza.

Ohtani, the reigning American League MVP, is likely to only play this coming season as a designated hitter as he recovers from surgery that is expected to prevent him from pitching.

"I think Ohtani will return to the two-way role the year after next," Watanabe said. "I want him to be the home run king next year."

As of early Sunday morning, the deal still had not been announced by the Dodgers, who must create room for Ohtani on their 40-man roster.

Ohtani, 29, is a larger-than-life hero in Japan and the country's most famous athlete. He has stoked national pride by reaching the pinnacle of a game beloved by many Americans and Latin Americans.

Japanese fans have already been following Ohtani intently through television and other media, but this move is sure to raise his profile even higher with advertisers and sponsors who focus on the Japan market.

Ohtani, the first player in baseball history to be named unanimous MVP on multiple occasions, is one of the most marketable athletes in the world, driving ticket sales, television revenue and sponsorship deals.

"I'm so happy. I had been waiting for this announcement since yesterday," said Sho Sato, who is a nurse.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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