So now Ben Verlander knows what it’s like to be the Beatles, Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin all rolled into one, walking the streets of Japan.
He went to Japan to be filled with awe, respect and admiration for one of the most beloved athletes ever to come from Japan.
In the process, says Verlander, younger brother of two-time MVP and World Series champion Cy Young. Justin Verlanderhe also discovered its true meaning.
Verlander spent 10 days in Japan last month, traveling to Shohei Otani’s hometown, attending football games, visiting Otani’s former coaches and teammates, his hometown mayor, fans and children, and returning for an hour-long interview with Otani in Los Angeles. Angeles.
All of this will be featured on Fox Sports’ “Finding Shohei: Special Interview”, a 60-minute show produced by sports media company Religion of Sports, airing October 18 on FS1 after the first ALCS game.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen, I didn’t know what we were going to get,” Verlander told USA TODAY Sports, “but it was the most powerful story about what he means to everyone in Japan and at the same time that I I mean.
“To not sound too soft and sentimental, everyone wants to have a purpose. I thought my goal was to play baseball and play baseball for as long as possible. But I realized that even though my baseball career is over, I still matter.
“I realized that this is what I had to do, talking about my love for the game, helping the development of the game.
“It was quite powerful and very emotional.”
Verlander, 30, who played on the US Third Team as a pitcher and outfielder for Old Dominion before spending five years in the minors, wanted to go to Japan and work on the Ohtani special for nearly a year. He felt almost like a link between the United States and Japan, expressing his continued love and appreciation for Otani’s dominance as arguably the greatest two-way player in history.
“If he was just a pitcher,” Verlander says, “he would be Jacob de Grom. If he was just a striker, he would be Mike Trout. He’s just incredible.”
“I take it as a sense of responsibility to make sure I’m talking about him right.”
Verlander has heard that he was loved in Japan for his flamboyant coverage of Otani, making him a regular on his podcast. “The bats”. He soon discovered that he underestimated Japan’s love for Ohtani and those who cover for him. During his visit, his podcast received more views than any other sports podcast in Japan.
“People in Japan are not the most outspoken,” Verlander said. “They do not speak loudly, they do not speak boldly, so I am their voice on the other side of the world. How can this not affect you?
“When I got there, I was amazed at the reaction. The reaction was incredible. Adult adults came to me, some traveled for four hours, came to meet me. There were gifts, magazines, posts. with my photo on them.
“There were children who burst into tears. One girl burst into tears and could not control herself. I was amazed. The kids asked me for an autograph. It was emotional for me, emotional for them.
“Looking back, I saw some of the coolest things in the world.
“Really, it was the coolest experience of my life.”
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Verlander visited Otani’s hometown in Mizusawa, met the mayor at City Hall, where he wore an Otani jersey and a replica of Otani’s hand that visitors could shake. He spent time at his high school Hanamaki Higashi talking to his former teammate Daiki Obara and his former coaches. They regaled him with stories about how Otani was the best swimmer in school, but not on the swim team. His baseball coach begged him to stop hitting balls over the right field fence into the river, so he started spraying homers all over the fields.
“I think a lot of people saw Shohei as a pitcher when he was throwing 100 mph at 18 and just assumed he was going to be a pitcher,” Verlander said. “Now when they see him on the hill, he should be there and the fact that he hits too makes him a unicorn. He is a mythical being who demonstrates what is possible.
“After talking to Shohei and hearing him talk about it, he lays a plan for the kids, making them believe they can do it too. I think what he did will change the game of baseball forever.”
28-year-old Otani not only caught our attention in this country, but also became perhaps the most popular Japanese player in history. He doesn’t hit home runs like a record 868 homers. Sadaharu Oh in Japan. Chances are he won’t land 3,000 strikes and win two batting titles as a future Hall of Famer. Ichiro Suzuki. But with the advent of social media, when Otani became the most eligible bachelor in Japan, his popularity has become unprecedented.
“He’s not just a great baseball player, it’s his personality,” Verlander said. “He is endearing. People relate to him because of the kind of person he is. He is so polite and correct. You see how he even collects garbage in a dugout or tunnel.
“That’s why I wanted to throw myself into the thick of it all and find out all about it.”
And now Verlander is ready to tell his story by learning everything he can about Otani and, yes, even himself.
“I don’t speak their language, they don’t speak mine,” Verlander said, “but what we understood was the language of Shohei Otani. This is the power of Shohei and what he has done with all their hopes and dreams. comes true. I have been privileged to speak about what he means to people around the world. I’m honored to do this and honor one of the best players we’ve ever seen.
“What can I say? This is the brightest event in my life.”
Follow Bob Nightingale on Twitter @Bnightengale.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: “Looking for Otani” explores Japan’s proximity to Shohei Otani