As some of you may know, in a little over a month my adventure in California is coming to an end. I moved out to Southern California back in 2015, along with my girlfriend, to chase a few dreams: college, gainful employment, and the adventure of a lifetime.
Before I continue with this article, I think it’s important to share a little bit of my background, even though many of you have watched me grow up over the years (I registered way back in 2010) into who I am today.
In 2010, my life was going through a lot of change. I was on the verge of dropping out of college when I joined, and like many other people my age (I was a newly minted 18 year old at the time), was having difficulty figuring out just who I was. Mental illness set in, and I followed through with dropping out of college. It was a bad time in my life, one I seldom like to revisit. For all intents and purposes, I lost any sense of future success and did not see myself living to the year 2018, let alone managing to do so in Southern California of all places.
One of the things I absorbed myself in during those tough times was baseball. No matter what changed in my life, I could count on the fact that between the beginning of April, and the middle of October, a game would be on nearly every day. Winning and losing were not important, so much as the idea that baseball was there for me when it felt like nothing else was.
That’s why it was such a shock to get the chance to turn my life around. I went back to college. I got my first job. I started living for the sake of fun, rather than because someone wanted me to live a certain way. I had done something I had figured to be impossible: I found myself while I was living in such a strange place.
It got to the point where I found myself writing for OTM, and talking about the sport that had unknowingly given so much to me. It’s helped me see the game in a new light, which is something I am forever grateful for.
This is where we fast forward to last night, when Shohei Ohtani took the mound against David Price and the Boston Red Sox. Though Ohtani wasn’t long for the game (he was removed because of a blister after the second inning), the fervor around the ballpark could be felt even in the depths of left field, away from the heart of the action.
“It’s Sho’ Time, David Price!” one fan would scream, ringing in my ears.
Another would shout about how a perfect game would not surprise them. Still another was chanting “Sho-hei! Sho-hei! Sho-hei!” as early as 20 minutes before the game even started. As Ohtani warmed up within feet of Price, you actually got the feel that the fans had started to have confidence in their own guy. It was a change from the last time I attended an Angels game against, which also came against the Red Sox last season.
Shohei Ohtani brought a new culture with him, and the Angels fans seemed revitalized by his very presence. For the first time in Angel Stadium, I actually felt like a visitor and not like I was part of the home team.
The fervor that Ohtani-mania has brought to the team was seen and felt throughout the ballpark. The game was sold-out, and at least at times it definitely showed. It’s hard to tell how many of the tickets were actually claimed, because the lines for food, alcohol, and the bathrooms were always immense, but the point is that there were tens of thousands of tickets sold, and this was a must-see matchup that I considered myself fortunate to see first-hand.
When Mookie hit his first of three home runs, you’d normally expect to crush the spirits of these fans a year ago. This time, the fans only cheered louder, willing their ace to continue and pitch like the man who carried a perfect game into the 7th inning his last time out.
The Red Sox, as we know, had other plans and played a very effective style of game. Already, some of the Red Sox also had a lot of positive things to say about Ohtani’s future:
David Price with high praise for Shohei Ohtani: "He’s going to be really good. He’s going to be good offensively and on the mound. He’s very young. He’s getting used to these baseballs. He’s getting used to these atmospheres. It’s going to take him a little while..He’ll be fine"— Jason Mastrodonato (@JMastrodonato) April 18, 2018
Mookie Betts on Shohei Ohtani: "His stuff is there. Everything is there. He throws 100, has a 90-mph splitter, slider, curveball. He’s got it all. But our team had a good approach against him today."— Jason Mastrodonato (@JMastrodonato) April 18, 2018
The message being sent is clear: This is a roadbump in the career of Shohei Ohtani and this is not the beginning of the end of his status as the ace of the Angels. An excellent pitcher did not have his best stuff. An excellent pitcher didn’t have control of his splitter. An excellent pitcher failed to beat what may well be the best team in baseball.
None of these are crimes that Ohtani has committed. The spotlight on him, however, is such that you would not be shocked to hear fans of the team bad-mouthing him after he left the game before the third inning. If there was any such bad-mouthing, it escaped my ears all the way in section 257. Even with Ohtani out of the game, and being owners of a 3-0 deficit against David Price, a former Cy Young award winner, the fans showed fight and really did believe that a comeback was possible. This, again, is another example of how Ohtani has helped changed the culture at Angel Stadium. Even with their ace out of the game, they had faith in the team, something that they didn’t appear to show the last time I went to see the games live.
Once the score reached video game silliness, this fight started to disappear, as well it would in any park that wasn’t located in Boston (the only reason the fight would continue in Boston is because our fans are silly enough to cheer whether they are up 20-0, or down 0-20, regardless of the odds). Fans started to file out in the 8th inning once it became clear that a comeback was not in the cards.
As the fans began to leave, and I worked on my second beer of the night, it got me to wondering about the life I led, and how blessed I have been to get my second chance at life. It was as I was pondering this feeling that I heard a loud crack of the bat, looked up, and knew what was about to happen.
Mookie Betts was about to circle the bases for a third time. The ball was hit close to me. I didn’t realize it right away, but I was close enough to the action that I got shown on TV. When I went back to check this out for myself, something I saw made me realize that a little of this excitement that Ohtani brought to Anaheim was left with me as well. The emotion captured on video is something that I felt was also representative of why I committed to the life changing decision of moving in the first place. It was in that moment, as I saw Mookie do something truly special (third three home-run game, tied with Ted Williams for most in franchise history), that I felt most alive.
It felt like the exclamation point to the end of my stay in California; the end of a resplendent chapter that goes down as the first truly positive one in my short life. It is as I type this, and begin the process of moving to Boston, to be closer to the team I love. I finally realize that I have found the peace I had been searching for when I first came to OTM on a cold September afternoon in 2010. It’s not that I have found peace in baseball. Far from it, in fact. I have found peace in living.