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Don’t listen to the killjoys, Shohei Otani. Baseball needs you. Cripes, we need you.
Coors Field is a baseball palace run by jesters and fools. The Rockies’ prince, Nolan Arenado, got shipped to St. Louis along with $51 million for a Rich Hill clone and four maybes. The general manager who’d built and burnt this bird grabbed his golden parachute and jumped months ago.
It’s July, and we’re still not sure how many hands are on the stick in the Rockies’ front office. Or if management even knows how to fly this thing. Or which pieces of furniture are nailed down, and which ones are destined for the front lawn.
Don’t do a Jacob deGrom, Shohei. Don’t bail on the All-Star game. Give us this one, at least. Please.
“I think he’s going to hit a couple shots over 500 feet,” Rockies icon Vinny Castilla said with a grin Thursday when asked about Ohtani, the Los Angeles Angels’ two-way sensation and the biggest headliner of Major League Baseball’s All-Star festivities in Denver.
“He’s a left-handed hitter, so I think maybe (he’ll) hit it in the (right field) bar.”
Maybe? Of Ohtani’s 32 home runs as of Wednesday night, 24 of them had traveled at least 400 feet. Fifteen of those bad boys have been clocked coming off the bat at a clip of at least 110 miles per hour.
Now picture that kind of voltage, amplified by thin air at 5,280 feet.
Basically, if you’re pounding a cold one on The Rooftop on Monday and Otani is taking his hacks in the Home Run Derby, Castilla has one word of advice: Duck.
“Probably some guys (will be) ordering some beer,” Castilla said, grinning wider now. He slapped his cheek playfully. “And it might hit them in the face.”
Hey, the Mid-Summer Classic is supposed to be about fun. What’s more fun than watching a baseball splash down in your buddy’s IPA?
“This guy’s a phenom,” Castilla said of Ohtani, the pitcher-DH-outfielder who headed into Thursday’s slate of games with a Ruthian resume, leading the majors in home runs (32) and slugging (.700) while posting a 4-1 record and a 3.49 ERA in 13 starts.
“He can do it all at the highest level: Pitching, hitting. To be one of the best in each thing, I don’t think is easy … I don’t think there are too many guys out there that can do that. Maybe a couple more, but not a lot of guys can do it at the level he’s doing it.”
Of the 17 All-Star starters selected by fans, six are 27 or younger. Eight are repping their respective leagues next Tuesday for the first time.
MLB is swimming through a bunch of transitional phases, not all of them pretty — rules tweaks, minor-league contraction, the TSA-style frisking of pitchers, and the oncoming train of another labor rumble with the players’ union after this season.
But Ohtani has been the brightest of the game’s new shining lights. The 27-year-old slugger became the majors’ all-time single-season home run leader for a Japanese-born player on Wednesday with his 32nd shot, a mark he set in just 81 games. Last Friday, he passed Babe Ruth as the MLB player with the most home runs as a hitter who also made 10 starts as a pitcher, passing the Sultan of Swat’s 29 taters in 1919, the last season in which Ruth made multiple appearances on the mound.
“It’s tough to be a starting pitcher and then hit cleanup in your lineup,” said Castilla, the former Rox third baseman who’ll manage in the MLB Futures Game on Sunday, then take part in the celebrity softball game a few hours later. “It’s not easy. This guy, he’s a phenom.”
Any of your Rockies teammates that could’ve pulled it off?
“Not at this level, man,” Castilla, who’s also slated to appear at Play Ball Park, the free-to-the-public fan fest at the Convention Center, on Friday and Saturday. “It’s pretty tough. I can’t recall a guy that can do both and be a superstar in both. This guy’s out of this world, man.”
And now he’s coming to our town. Superstars are rare on Blake Street these days, Shohei. In a few weeks, they could be rarer, still. Don’t leave us hanging, brother.