By Ben Verlander
FOX Sports MLB Analyst
Once a year, the best baseball players in the world convene in one place for the MLB All-Star Game. They participate in multiple events throughout the week, and the city totally immerses itself in the All-Star festivities.
This year marked my first time attending as a member of the media.
Was I excited?
Yes, even more so.
This year at the All-Star Game, I had one goal and one goal only: to meet Shohei Ohtani.
It had to happen. I needed to shake Ohtani’s hand.
Since well before this season, I have been a huge Ohtani fan. Even prior to March, I was talking about the Los Angeles Angels’ two-way star more than most people probably wanted me to.
Over the first half of the MLB season, I watched and cheered him on as he transcended into a global superstar. As he had more and more success, I became completely enamored by everything Ohtani is becoming for the game of baseball.
People took notice of my fandom on the internet and on the “Flippin’ Bats” podcast, until the point that I was officially on a quest — a quest to meet Shohei Ohtani.
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The quest to meet Ohtani was alive and well the second I stepped off the plane on Saturday in Denver.
I spent a day or so getting the lay of the land, and then it was Monday, the day of the Home Run Derby, as well as All-Star media day and on-field workouts.
At first, I thought media day might be where my mission would go down.
To paint the scene, media day is almost like a speed-dating situation. Each player sits at his own little table, with his name on a board behind him, and media members walk around and talk to players until time is up.
The National League came out first, so after their turn, it was time for the American League players to make their way out. Ohtani, however, was nowhere to be found.
Earlier that day, he had been announced as the starting pitcher for the American League, and he was also participating in the Home Run Derby, so for him to skip media day wasn’t all that surprising.
It was, however, a missed opportunity for me.
FOX Sports MLB Analyst Ben Verlander recaps his epic mission to meet Shohei Ohtani at the MLB All-Star Game and discusses how the Angels’ star has become an international sensation.
Later that day, players participated in on-field workouts. Each league has its players take batting practice, work on their defense and all of that good stuff.
Essentially, it’s another opportunity for the media to get access to the players.
Again, Ohtani was nowhere in sight.
And again, I wasn’t surprised. He had a lot going on over the course of a few days, and for him to skip the on-field workouts and little things like that seemed more than fair.
But then, I was standing on the field when I heard someone say, “Oh, wow, there’s Shohei Ohtani. He’s over there talking to them on the TV set.”
Naturally, I went over and positioned myself so that right when Ohtani got off the set — BOOM — there I was.
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A quick but important side note: Aside from the fact that I love what Ohtani is doing for the game of baseball, I want everyone to appreciate in the moment what we are witnessing.
As that quote from “The Office” goes, “I wish there was a way to know you were in the good ol’ days before you left them.”
I realize what we are watching right now with Shohei Ohtani. It’s special, and someday we will tell our children and grandchildren about seeing him play.
I want to bring as much attention to this as possible.
Gradually this season, I realized that people were starting to get it. I would get messages on Twitter from fans saying they drove two-plus hours to watch Ohtani play because of how much I hyped him up.
Also, the Angels’ communications staff took notice. (Honestly, though, how could they not? I talk about Ohtani all the time. For good reason!)
A few days before the All-Star break, in fact, I went to a game in Anaheim and got to meet some of the staff and introduce myself.
Now back to the moment when I positioned myself right next to Ohtani on the stage: The Angels’ communications team on site in Denver, Adam and Grace, were right there next to me and saw me wandering around in hopes of meeting Ohtani.
As he was wrapping up, they waved me over and informed me that they were going to get the two of us together.
Then Ohtani walked off the set and over to where I was standing. We shook hands and took a picture together.
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It was a really cool moment for me, and I’ve had some time since then to reflect on it.
Why was I so excited to meet Shohei?
For goodness’ sake, my brother is a future Hall of Famer, and he actually struck out Ohtani for his 2,500th career strikeout.
But to me, Ohtani is bigger than the game of baseball, and he means so much more to the game than most people can imagine.
Ohtani can get an entire stadium of 50,000 people on their feet, cheering for him, no matter which team they root for.
He’s getting more eyes on the game than ever before, he’s putting more fans in the seats than ever before, and he’s doing it all while being an incredibly kind human being.
He’s changing the game I love so much right in front of our eyes, and he’s changing it for the better.
All I wanted to do was shake Ohtani’s hand, look him in the eye and say thank you.
This week in Denver, I was able to do just that.
Ben Verlander lays out his storylines to watch in the second half of the MLB season, including Shohei Ohtani’s full-season numbers, whether Fernando Tatis Jr. can join the 40-40 club and if the Giants can shock everyone by winning the NL West.
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 @Verly32.
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