By AngelsWin.com's Chuck Richter, David Saltzer
When the Angels signed Shohei Ohtani in December, 2017, they knew that they were getting a special player. How special, though, remained to be seen. They knew he had a power arm and a power bat, but no one in a century had combined both in a full season of baseball.
This year, Ohtani is having an unprecedented year. Fans are literally seeing history made every night, whether it’s through his hitting or his pitching. Sometimes it’s with both.
But the power of Ohtani extends far beyond the field. Not only does he have a massive American following, he has the power to draw fans from all over the world.
One of those fans is gal from Japan that we had the privilege of talking to. She goes by the handle Pikichin on Twitter. She was traveling throughout Africa at the time when she decided to come to see Ohtani play in the states.
When she first came to see Ohtani, she had heard about his successes, but “I was just rooting for him and didn't have the passion to call myself a fan.”
All that changed on July 26, the first time she saw Ohtani play. “I was waiting for him to appear at the front of the bullpen, so the first time I saw him was about 3 meters away. I knew he was a great player, so I left it at that. I was amazed at his height, style, small face, and long legs. I was also surprised to see the cheers from the local fans when he appeared in the bullpen.”
During the game, Ohtani pitched 7 strong innings, striking out 5, and only allowing 5 hits and one earned run. More importantly, he went 1 for 4 at the plate, hitting a homerun. And that got Pikichin hooked! “I was able to see him hit a home run, and I became more and more of a fan when I saw him being cheered on by not only the Angels fans, but also by the fans of the opposing team.”
So she stayed for another game. And another. Ultimately staying for 19 games, including a doubleheader.
Throughout her time watching Ohtani, Pikichin brought a sign to every game. It’s been featured during broadcasts and on the Jumbotrons in multiple stadiums and fans have asked her what it means. Since the Olympics were held in Japan, and Ohtani wasn’t on the Japanese National Team, her sign reads “Ohtani san, I'll give you a gold medal.” She wrote that because she said “he had done much better than winning a gold medal at the Olympics in MLB.”
The response from the fans to her signs has been tremendous. Fans will tell her "Cool! I love it!!” And, because she was often on the Jumbotron everyday, she was often greeted by fans saying “I know you!”
Her instant celebrity status led to her meeting many people and becoming friends with many more. She ended up going to games with fans that she met, staying in hotels with them, and visiting other tourist destinations in the various cities she visited.
While Ohtani can dominate on the mound, Pikichin loves watching him hit. “The home run, which is easy for anyone to understand, attracts not only me but also many Japanese who are not so familiar with baseball.”
Her highlights include seeing Ohtani hit four home runs, numbers 36-39. “Hitting a home run is of course a difficult thing to do, but in Ohtani san's case, he hit the ball as if it was a normal hit, and it became a home run, which was impressive.” Pikichin believes that Ohtani will end up with 48 homeruns for the season.
There are many small things that Ohtani does that Pikichin loves. For example, she loves how he hands his batting gloves to the ball boy rather than drop them on the ground like other players. She enjoys seeing him being respectful and talking with other players when on base.
What Pikichin loves most is how Ohtani has been cheered and celebrated by fans across America. When he’s warming up in the bullpen, fans cheer. And, when Ohtani hits a home run, “the whole stadium cheers in unison, friend or foe, and it makes me very happy and excited to see that one Japanese person has excited many Americans.”
Pikichin believes that Ohtani has one more power that is needed now more than anything. She believes that Ohtani provides hope for the world during Covid. “In Japan, people are wondering, ‘How many people are infected today?’ ‘It's increasing again...’ However, since Ohtani san’s success, we have been hearing things like, "He hit his 40th home run today!! ‘How many more can he hit!?’ The more Ohtani san plays, the more people smile under their face masks.”
Because of her time following the Angels and Ohtani, Pikichin became familiar with other Angels greats, such as Mike Trout. As she put it, “Japanese baseball fans know very little about players on teams that don't have Japanese players, so thanks to Ohtani san, Trout became known to them. After that, Japanese fans who learned about Trout's success. And said, "If Trout had been here, Angels might have won..." at games where the Angels lost!”
What Pikichin would like to see most with Ohtani is a showdown with Yu Darvish—a classic battle of two Japanese stars.
For the season, Pikichin wishes that Ohtani wins the MVP Award. And “I want him to stay injury free and continue to be active in the MLB, and continue to give hope to Japan, a country that has so much dark news.”
If there is any baseball player who can provide hope to Japan and the world, it’s Ohtani, “the pride of Japan.”
For our full interview with Pikichin conducted by our own founder & executive editor, please read below.
AngelsWin.com: When did you become a baseball fan, and a fan of Shohei Ohtani? Was it in Japan or after he signed with the Angels and you watched him play in the states?
Pikichin: It was when I saw him play in the US. I had heard about his successes, but I was just rooting for him and didn't have the passion to call myself a fan.
AngelsWin.com: Was it a particular game or play that stood out for you by Ohtani that really made you a big fan of us?
Pikichin: The first game I watched was on July 26, the day Ohtani san was pitching. I was waiting for him to appear at the front of the bullpen, so the first time I saw him was about 3 meters away. I knew he was a great player, so I left it at that. I was amazed at his height, style, small face, and long legs. I was also surprised to see the cheers from the local fans when he appeared in the bullpen. After that, I was able to see Ohtani san a pitcher and hitter, in person, I was able to see him hit a home run, and I became more and more of a fan when I saw him being cheered on by not only the Angels fans, but also by the fans of the opposing team.
AngelsWin.com: So, when did you decide it was time to go see Shohei Ohtani in the states?
Pikichin: It was June of 2021. I was in Africa at the time, but I saw the news of Ohtani san’s home run on my timeline on SNS every day, and I decided to go to the U.S. because I wanted to see a Japanese person active in the world with my own eyes.
Due to the time difference, the game was played early in the morning Japan time, so I was impressed by the fact that many people said that their routine was to wake up in the morning and check for Ohtani san’s home run.
Once I returned to Japan, I would have to go through a two-week self quarantine, and it would be difficult to go overseas again, so I decided to stop by the U.S. before going back to Japan.
Also, if I was going to go there, I wanted to bring a sign to show my support, so I talked with my friends and followers and decided to bring a sign that said, "Ohtani san, I'll give you a gold medal.” At the time, the Tokyo Olympics were being held in Japan, and the Japanese baseball team defeated the U.S. to win the gold medal. Although he was not a member of the Japanese national team, I wanted to give him a gold medal because he had done much better than winning a gold medal at the Olympics in MLB.
AngelsWin.com: How much planning went into the trip?
Pikichin: I took a one-way ticket from Kenya and planned to return in about two weeks. I bought a flight ticket to go back on August 2nd just after the home game ended, but I couldn't get the format for the PCR inspection required to enter Japan because it was Sunday.
I was going to stay a few days longer and return home, but a friend in Japan gave me money for a flight ticket to Dallas to support Ohtani san, so I decided to stay longer and go to Dallas. After that, I went back to LA and went to Dodger Stadium, then back to Angel Stadium, and ended up staying there for a month.
AngelsWin.com: How many games did you attend, and which stadiums did you see Ohtani play in?
Pikichin: I watched 19 games.
7/26-8/1 6 games @Angel Stadium
8/2-8/4 3 games @Globe Life Field
8/5-8/7 3 games @Doger Stadium
8/10-15 7 games @Angel Stadium *10th is a double header
I took a picture in front of the stadium every day. There are pictures in the tree of this tweet.
AngelsWin.com: What was your favorite city and thing to do outside of watching Ohtani at the baseball park when you were in the states?
Pikichin: I did sight-seeing in each city. In Anaheim, I visited Disneyland and Adventure World. In LA, I went to Universal Studios Hollywood, the museum in downtown, Little Tokyo, The Little Bookstore, Huntington Beach, and Santa Monica.
In Dallas, I dressed up as a cowgirl at the Stockyards and rode the Longhorn Cow.
I've been to many places, but my favorite is Universal Studios. I went there with a girl who was a fan of Ohtani, whom I met at the ballpark and became friends with. It was much bigger than the Universal Studios in Japan, and there were many attractions that were very powerful, and I couldn't ride all of them, so I would like to go back again.
AngelsWin.com: What was your most memorable game or moment by Ohtani that you witnessed live during your time in the states?
Pikichin: I was able to see four home runs, No. 36-39. Hitting a home run is of course a difficult thing to do, but in Ohtani san's case, he hit the ball as if it was a normal hit, and it became a home run, which was impressive.
When Ohtani-san batted, not only the Angels fans but also the fans of the opposing team cheered loudly, calling him MVP, and the whole stadium cheered for him; he is the pride of the Japanese people.
AngelsWin.com: Were you able to meet any Angels fans and Ohtani fans from Japan? If so, tell us a little bit about those encounters.
Pikichin: When I'm watching the game by myself, fans around me call out to me. What does that sign say? When I explained that it said, "Ohtani san, I'll give you a gold medal.” Many fans complimented me, saying, "Cool! I love it!!” Also, since I was on the big monitors every day, I was often greeted with "I know you!”
All the fans were kind to me, giving me foul balls and balls that the players threw to me in the inning.
I was also approached by a woman who was a fan of Ohtani san at the ballpark, and we had dinner together after the game, and she took me to where I was staying, and we became good friends. When we went to Dodger Stadium to watch the game, we stayed in the same hotel room and also went to Universal Studios together.
I also made friends with other local fans and watched the game with them on different days.
The staff at the ballpark was also very kind. When I went to the customer center, they asked me about the medal I had around my neck and when I told them I was going to Dallas tomorrow to cheer for the team, they took me to the back room and gave me a giveaway sweatshirt from Ohtani san’s Rookie of the Year campaign!
AngelsWin.com: What part of Ohtani’s game excites you the most? His hitting, pitching or base running?
Pikichin: Hitting. The home run, which is easy for anyone to understand, attracts not only me but also many Japanese who are not so familiar with baseball.
When Ohtani san hits a home run, the whole stadium cheers in unison, friend or foe, and it makes me very happy and excited to see that one Japanese person has excited many Americans.
AngelsWin.com: Does Ohtani have a big following in Japan from baseball and non-baseball fans alike?
Pikichin: Every day, there are reports on Japanese TV news that "Ohtani has hit a home run No. XX" and many sports programs feature him. Even Japanese people who are not baseball fans think that Ohtani is an amazing player. In fact, many of my followers were Japanese who were not interested in baseball, but I received replies from them saying, "Thanks to Pikichin, I know he is a great player," "I want to support him," and "I want to actually see him at the stadium.
AngelsWin.com: What are the fans of his in Japan saying about his 2021 MVP season?
Pikichin: This is the only "HOPE" for the Covid-19.
In Japan, people are wondering, "How many people are infected today?" "It's increasing again..." However, since Ohtani san’s success, we have been hearing things like, "He hit his 40th home run today!! "How many more can he hit!?” The more Ohtani san plays, the more people smile under their face masks.
AngelsWin.com: How many home runs do you think Ohtani will hit this season?
Pikichin: 48 home runs!
The Japanese media is featuring 50 of them.
AngelsWin.com: Your favorite story that you heard of Ohtani from someone in Japan or in the United States that isn’t public knowledge?
Pikichin: I heard a rumor that Ohtani san wanted to live in a house within walking distance to the stadium, but he gave up because the people around him were very much against it. I thought that's how much he loves baseball.
I didn't hear any other stories about Ohtani san that hadn't been made public. I think his mysteriousness is one of the reasons for his popularity.
I'm sure it's public knowledge, but here are some of my favorite episodes of Ohtani san that I saw at the ballpark. Many players drop their bats and elbow guards on the ground after getting a hit, but Ohtani san hands them to the ball boy. Ohtani san is polite enough to hand the bat to the ball boy with the handle facing the ball boy.
If there is small trash on the ground, he picks it up and puts it in his pocket.
He was happily chatting with Guerrero Jr. at first base as they battled for MVP.
The day after the game was off, both Ohtani san and Ippei san had their hair cut, and I think they are really close to each other that they go out and go to the hair salon together even on their days off!
AngelsWin.com: What do those who you talk to in Japan say about the Angels as a team in general? Do people realize that when Mike Trout is healthy the Angels will essentially have two of the best players in baseball on the same team in the entire world?
Pikichin: "The Angels have Ohtani, so why are they weak?" they said. In Japanese sports news, after reporting on Ohtani san's success, they report that “Also the Angels lost the game”, so I often hear the word "Nao-e" on SNS. “Also the Angels lost the game." In Japanese, this is “Nao enzerusu ha siai ni yabureta”, the first three letters of which are Nao-e. This word is said to have originated from the phrase "Nao-ma" used to describe Ichiro.
Japanese baseball fans know very little about players on teams that don't have Japanese players, so thanks to Ohtani san, Trout became known to them. After that, Japanese fans who learned about Trout's success. And said, "If Trout had been here, Angels might have won..." at games where the Angels lost!
AngelsWin.com: Do you record the games Ohtani plays in while in Japan and watch them at a decent hour when you’re available, or do you watch them all live?
Pikichin: If I'm awake, I watch the game live on a pay-per-view service that I'm subscribing to. When the game is at about 4:00 in the morning, I am asleep and watch the highlights that the service has put together.
AngelsWin.com: Between Japanese professional baseball and Major League Baseball in the United States, what are some things that are quite different from your perspective? Both from the players and their talent, game play on the field and the atmosphere in the stands as a spectator?
Pikichin: What surprised me the most was the number of couples and families in the audience. In Japan, many of the spectators at professional baseball games are men. Many people come after work, so there are a lot of men in suits, but I didn't see any men wearing suits in the MLB. Also, in Japan, the first base side is for the home team and the third base side is for the away team, but in the MLB, there is no such rule, so it was refreshing to see the people sitting next to me cheering for the enemy team.
The way of cheering is also different. In Japanese professional baseball, people use musical instruments to cheer, so we can't hear the sound of the game, but in MLB, people cheer with their voices and applause, so we can hear the sound of hitting and see the game with a sense of realism.
Also, the distance between us and the players is much closer in MLB. Angel Stadium, in particular, is very close to the field and there are no steps, so the fan service of the players is wonderful.
In MLB, I think there are many ways to entertain the audience. There are many ways to entertain the audience, such as having a camera come to our seats and show us the game on a big monitor, singing "Take me to baseball" together, and everyone shouting along to Queen's squirrel.
At Globe life field in Dallas, there are also events where mysterious three characters race and kids run to get the bases, which is fun and exciting for both kids and adults.
AngelsWin.com: Tell us a little bit about yourself outside of your interest in Ohtani. What does Pikichin do for work, for fun and in your spare time?
Pikichin: I was working in Rwanda in Africa last year. I loved Africa so much that I finally realized my dream of working in Africa, but I had to go back to Japan because of COVID-19, and my company decided not to do overseas business, so I resigned at the end of last year and am now unemployed. I had to leave Japan because of COVID-19 and my company decided not to do overseas business. Few months later, I had been traveling around Africa to look for a job because it was boring to stay at home all the time with covid-19 in Japan.
I was planning to go back to Japan after traveling to Morocco, Egypt, Rwanda, and Kenya, but I decided to go to America to see Ohtani san hit a home run.
My hobbies are traveling, SNS, and photography. The month I spent cheering for Ohtani was the best time for me to travel and take videos and photos of him and upload them to SNS. Normally, I was an African influencer posting information about Africa, but for the past month, I became an Ohtani san influencer and posted information about the charm of Ohtani san.
AngelsWin.com: Any big plans to visit again? What are some MLB stadiums that you hope to see Ohtani play in and states/cities that you hope to visit and go sightseeing in?
Pikichin: I'd like to come back to the U.S. to manage an Angels Fan and Angels' official Japanese Twitter account, as I'm grateful for the real-time updates on Ohtani san's activities and what's going on at the ballpark. There are many Ohtani fans of all ages and demographics in Japan, and many of them are not good at English, so it would be great if I could make a career out of sending out information about him.
In terms of pure game watching, I would like to see a showdown with Darvish, who is as popular as Ohtani san in Japan. I would also like to watch a game at the Field of Dreams corn field stadium. It was covered on a TV show in Japan, and there was an interview with a man who looked for a home run ball that went into a corn field. I would like to find a home run ball in a corn field too.
Actually, I haven't traveled much in the U.S., so I would like to visit New York.
AngelsWin.com: If you could hope for one thing for Shohei Ohtani this season (2021) and beyond this season, what would it be?
Pikichin: I want him to win the MVP award this season.
After that, I want him to stay injury free and continue to be active in the MLB, and continue to give hope to Japan, a country that has so much dark news.