Etsuo’s Corner: catching spring baseball


Etsuo Fujita

Los Angeles Angels pitcher and hitter Shohei Ohtani pitches during spring traning on March 9, 2018 in Tempe, Arizona.//Photo By: Etsuo Fujita/The Guilfordian

During the last five days of spring break, I went to Arizona to see major league baseball spring training.

When I told my friends I was heading to Arizona, some of them asked me, “are you going to the Grand Canyon?” Despite this assumption, my only purpose in Arizona was to watch baseball, not to visit the Grand Canyon. While in Arizona, I really enjoyed watching baseball all day.

I was very excited to see Japanese players, especially Shohei Ohtani, a new Japanese player who is a member of the Los Angeles Angels. He got a large amount of attention in Japan and the U.S. because he is trying to be a two-way player, which is playing both pitcher and batter. In Japan, he recorded 11 wins as a pitcher and 10 home runs as a batter in 2014. He is expected to achieve more than 10 wins and home runs like Babe Ruth.

I saw two games, one Ohtani played as a batter and one he played as a pitcher. I was so excited to see the game when he played as a batter because the pitcher of the opposing team was Clayton Kershaw, the ace of the Los Angeles Dodgers. I knew he is one of the best pitchers in MLB, so I really wanted to see his pitching. Unfortunately, he did not make any hits. The other day, I saw him playing as a pitcher, but he also did not play as well as I’d hoped.

He seemed to struggle with the new environment because in my opinion, the MLB is a much higher level than the NPB, Japan’s professional baseball league. In addition, there are so many differences between the styles of playing baseball. For example, the ball used in the MLB is said to be much smoother than the one used in Japan. It may be very difficult for him to adjust to the new environment, and I think it will take one or two years until he is successful in the MLB.

There was surprising news that Ichiro, a Japanese player, would come back to the Seattle Mariners where he started his career in MLB. Ichiro has been a superstar for many baseball players in Japan, and I was also dreaming of him when I started playing baseball. I could not believe the news because he is 44 years old and I thought I might not be able to see him playing again in the MLB. So I was very glad to hear that he would keep playing with the Mariners. Furthermore, the Mariners have spring training in Arizona as well, so I decided to go to see Ichiro again.

I still remember my first attempt at meeting Ichiro when I went to Miami at the end of September to see him. I was waiting for him for more than 10 hours for three days to get his autograph, but I could not. It was like a bonus chance for me to try to get his signature again.

I will never forget the moment when he gave me an autograph. I was waiting for him outside the clubhouse with other fans, but I did not expect to get his autograph. Surprisingly, after he came out from the clubhouse, he came to our side and gave us signatures. I was very happy to achieve my dream and I felt that I had completed my mission in the U.S.

Seeing Ohtani and Ichiro and getting their signatures was an unforgettable experience for me. Furthermore, talking with a lot of people in English while waiting to get signatures and watching the game was also a valuable experience. Sometimes, we talked about players such as Ichiro and Ohtani. Or sometimes, we shared our life experiences.

Through the conversation, I learned a lot of things and I also felt a lot of hospitality because fellow fans were so kind and they sometimes helped me. I was very impressed with the people I communicated with and I thought, “this is what America is about.”

For me, spring break in Arizona was the best trip of my life because I achieved my dream and experienced a lot of heartwarming kindness from others who came to see spring training. I will never forget all the experiences in Arizona and want to go to see the spring training again.