Saturday, February 4 2023

By Ben Verlander
FOX Sports MLB Analyst

Editor’s note: Ben Verlander is spending time in Japan exploring Shohei Ohtani’s roots, experiencing the country’s culture and meeting fans. This is the sixth in a recurring series that began Friday, Aug. 19.

I continue to have the time of my life in Japan. I wake up every morning hoping that somehow, this new day will last longer than 24 hours.

We began this particular day at the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, which was the perfect stop for me on this trip. A big reason I’m here is to dive in and learn more about the country’s baseball culture.

The first thing that pops out is all the Shohei Ohtani memorabilia inside. Although he’s not officially eligible for the Hall of Fame yet, his gear — as well as plenty of other cool stuff — can be found throughout the museum. This includes the baseballs from his first and last pitches thrown professionally in Japan, a signed jersey, cleats and a bat.

The Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame has plenty of Shohei Ohtani memorabilia. (Photo by Nick Rago/FOX Sports)

One thing I didn’t quite understand was just how far back baseball history in Japan goes. There were hundreds of plaques, some featuring players I recognized, most notably Hideo Nomo and Hideki Matsui. 

There was even a huge poster of Babe Ruth from when he and other MLB All-Stars — including Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Fox — went on a barnstorming tour of Japan. All in all, more than half a million people turned out to watch the team play.

Ben Verlander looks at Babe Ruth art at the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.  (Photo by Nick Rago/FOX Sports)

From there, it was time for a planned meet-up in front of the iconic Tokyo Dome. I didn’t quite know what to expect. Would 10 people show up, 50, maybe 100? I had no idea what the response would be.

I walked around the corner and was greeted by hundreds of people. The crowd started cheering as I approached, and my eyes went to the signs and artwork people had made just for me.

Ben Verlander meets with fans by the Tokyo Dome. (Photo by Nick Rago/FOX Sports)

“Welcome to Japan, Ben!”

“I love you, Ben!”

I spent the next two hours meeting every person there and taking pictures with anyone who wanted one. The circle around me just kept getting bigger and bigger. What was once a group of 200 people turned into 300. There were tears, there were heartwarming stories, there were funny moments.

Ben Verlander meets one of the youngest “Flippin’ Bats” fans. (Photo by Nick Rago/FOX Sports)

Next was a late-night trip to NHK, the largest news station in Japan, where I was scheduled to be on the station’s flagship baseball show, “World Sports MLB.” On the way there, I was told that millions of people watch the program every day, so naturally, some nerves set in.

I walked in and saw Japanese fried chicken waiting in the green room. We were off to a good start.

Then it was time for rehearsal. One difference between Japanese and American news: Japanese production crews rehearse the entire show before they go live, which definitely helped me. One of the producers pulled me aside and told me that he wanted me to lead off the show in the middle of the studio, in Japanese, with a phrase I had never heard before.

For those wondering how a guy who can speak only 17 English words could make it an hour on Japanese television, I’ll pull back the curtain for you. I had an earpiece that was connected to a sound booth just off-camera. In the booth were two women who translated what my cohosts were saying into English in real time.

I was nervous when the red light came on, but the show went great. I got to touch on why Ohtani deserves to be the back-to-back AL MVP and what I’ve noticed about Japanese pro ball.

As I ended the night on NHK, “Gokigen yoh!”

In English: See you next time!

Ben Verlander is an MLB Analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the “Flippin’ Bats” podcast. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Verlander was an All-American at Old Dominion University before he joined his brother, Justin, in Detroit as a 14th-round pick of the Tigers in 2013. He spent five years in the Tigers organization. Follow him on Twitter @BenVerlander.

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Source: FOX Sports


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