Shohei Ohtani’s world is about to change on and off the field with the Dodgers

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Shohei Ohtani’s world is about to change on and off the field with the Dodgers

Welcome to Los Angeles, Shohei Ohtani. Your complete Ohtanomy bubble has just burst.

The only thing that will be familiar to the newest member of the Los Angeles Dodgers as he moves between teams in Southern California is the beaches (they’re actually a little different on the coast, too). Everything else will be completely different at Chavez Ravine, even though it’s only 50 miles north of his Orange County home. Particularly early in his eye-popping, 10-year, $700 million contract, Los Angeles will be uncharted territory in all the ways Ohtani has tried to avoid.

Of course, Ohtani knows very well what it means to be a superstar in the world. bigger Los Angeles area. But playing for the Angels of Anaheim wasn’t even a dress rehearsal for what he can expect as a Dodger. We knew privacy was of the utmost importance to Ohtani, both during the season and especially during his increased free agency. But the fact that Ohtani chose the Dodgers means he’s at least willing to give up some of that solitude in favor of what seems most important to the best player in baseball: winning.

In Anaheim, Ohtani got away with it by regularly hiding from the group of reporters who showed up daily to cover him. The bigger the news – like when he tore his UCL near the end of the 2023 season – the more unavailable he would be. The Angels’ public relations team, coaches, front office and Ohtani’s representatives helped him achieve his goal of operating in isolation by speaking for him, giving him the time and space to hiding in a ballpark, or cross-checking reporters’ questions ahead of his already infrequent availability. . That’s not going to work now that it has a legitimate presence in the country’s second-largest market.

So if Ohtani didn’t care about all this hubbub in the first place, agreeing to a contract with the Dodgers might just force his hand. With the commotion he’s going to cause in Hollywood, it will be harder than ever for the humble Japanese superstar to stay out of the spotlight. The media contingent that covers the Dodgers is significantly larger and will only grow with Ohtani on board. The Dodgers fan base is exponentially bigger, more passionate and more critical. Dodger Stadium will have to build an auxiliary press box just to accommodate some of the media frenzy it will create.

But there were also distinguishing factors for the Dodgers — besides the size of their offer — that appealed to Ohtani. The demand for success is higher with his new club, as is the level of competition. Playing meaningful games throughout the year will be different for him – and certainly a joy. Fighting for a playoff spot in September will be a new thing. The same will apply to the competitions in October. His most analogous experience was this year’s World Baseball Classic, which he closed out by striking out former teammate Mike Trout to give Team Japan the championship. Ohtani now joins MLB’s winningest organization of the last decade.

But the two-way icon must also know, in joining one of baseball’s most important franchises, that his obligations will increase. It will be significantly more difficult, if not impossible, for him to get around the many responsibilities that come with wearing Dodger blue.

Just this week, when manager Dave Roberts spoke candidly about Ohtani’s pursuit, the topic of his private life came up several times. On the one hand, journalists were shocked to hear Roberts reveal mundane details like the mere existence of a meeting, when and where it occurred and how long they spoke, only because no other club had broken the confidentiality request reported by Ohtani. ESPN reported that if details about his free agency were leaked, Ohtani would blame this team.

Well, Roberts looked at that executive order and gave Ohtani a taste of what he can expect as a Dodger. The captain divulged some details of their encounter and said he did not feel comfortable lying to the media about what happened. By confessing, he also set a precedent. Roberts showed he was willing to address the truth, while keeping most of the details to himself. This is undoubtedly a high-wire act aimed at balancing Ohtani’s desire for privacy while remaining frank on fundamental issues. Is it possible that Ohtani actually respected the way Roberts handled the interview?

Moving forward, the Dodgers will expect more public appearances and interactions from Ohtani. Roberts fielded questions at the winter meetings about Ohtani’s media policy while he played for the Angels. At the end of his tenure in Anaheim, Ohtani would only speak to reporters after pitching. With Ohtani returning strictly as a (designated) hitter to begin his Dodgers career, Roberts was asked directly if Ohtani’s media policies were a topic of conversation during his visit to Dodger Stadium.

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“We haven’t had that conversation,” Roberts said. “I think it’s something that, yes, I think it’s a conversation that should be had. I’m just trying to figure out what’s best for himself and what’s best for baseball. So, I don’t know the right answer. I hope that’s the case. we can have this conversation, but I really can’t talk about how it happened before. “

Such an approach was a departure from what he was accustomed to with the Angels. For six years, Ohtani was spoiled by the Angels organization. He was picky about when he would speak and to whom. He was tight-lipped about his health regarding his UCL operation, injuries, bumps and bruises, or otherwise. Rather than the team/front office/manager deciding whether Ohtani would play in a game minutes after learning of his UCL tear, the Angels gave Ohtani full authority to make that decision. In reality, Ohtani was operating with unchecked power in Anaheim. Don’t expect it to work with the Dodgers.

That said, Ohtani’s team selection indicates that his desire to be a Dodger, surely inspired by the organization’s penchant for winning, was greater than his need for privacy. Unlike Anaheim, he will have to be an active face of the franchise while not being able to take the lead. And everyone, including a packed Dodger Stadium every night, will be watching. The chaos that surrounded him Friday, with private planes randomly followed and dinner reservations monitored, was just a sample of the attention he would attract. His fame will only explode now that he’s in Tinseltown.

The only peace and quiet he can count on will be found within the comfortable confines of his secluded Southern California home. As soon as he comes out in public, pandemonium will follow. His fans, more than ever, will be watching, waiting and wanting. And his fame, for better or worse, will only intensify as he fulfills his promises.

Just like with his record deal, Ohtani may be able to set a new precedent for a celebrity hiding in the Hollywood fishbowl. Staying truly private in Los Angeles, after all, might be just as difficult as thriving as a pitcher and hitter simultaneously. Many have tried, but few have succeeded.

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

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