There was a big crowd around the batting cages at Maryvale this week. Travis Shaw was smacking the ball as many of the invitees were watch with intentness as the veteran third baseman blistered each machine thrown pitch. Rarely do you see the big boys in The Show in the outside batting cages. Something was up. As we entered, we saw a Brewers team on the field and a team in red jersey’s coming to bat.
As some of the first through the gates, we took our seats and there were just a few in the ballpark. Love this time of the year and the early time at the ballpark. It is all yours. Usually there is just a few players warming up in the outfield. But today, we were given a sheet with all of the players numbers, many in the 90s on the back of their uniform.
There was no announcement of the game. Like an old time ‘Hollywood Sneak Preview’, before the scheduled game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Seattle Mariners, the Angels and Brewers, represented by lineups otherwise consisting mostly of minor leaguers, played inside Maryvale Baseball Park, in front of a few fans, including me, a bunch of scouts and a ton of media.
Then the red jersey’s took to the field. And out of the third base dugout came large man wearing #17 who walked to the mound, quite confident. With his warm ups, he was a pitcher with great confidence.
The sudden realization of what was happening hit me like a smack of thunder. This was to showcase a starting pitcher. Shohei Ohtani, was right in front of me. ‘Smack’, the sound of the fastball hitting the back of the catcher’s glove ricocheted throughout the stands. Although the stands were quite empty, the anticipated attention back in Japan, we were told, was such that the practice game was shown on live television, despite the first pitch coming at 2A, Saturday, Tokyo time.
For the next 2 2/3rds innings, eight (8) strikeouts, two (2) runs and four (4) hits, one realized that Ohtani, who had been the highest priced import from Japan, looked good, with a massive slider that was awesome as he had batters leaning back thinking they were about to get hit. Bigger than one expected, Ohtani was the real deal and it was thrilling to see this reward before the regularly scheduled game.
Someone once said, you nearly always see something in baseball that you have never seen before.
Sure, it was a ‘B’ game featuring the Salt Lake City Bees and the Sky Sox, but this morning…this very special morning, one glimpsed a bit into the future which few were fortunate enough to witness in person.
The magic of spring.