Ohtani Makes South Korean Fans Forget Rivalry With Japan

Shohei Ohtani is a soft-spoken, 6-foot-4 powerhouse. He is a unicorn: one of baseball’s best hitters and pitchers, the first to dominate both in nearly a century. He might one day be considered the greatest ever to play the game.

He’s also from Japan, the former colonizer of South Korea. The nations’ relationship is still marked by tension and intense rivalry. But that hasn’t stopped South Korean baseball fans from idolizing a fellow East Asian player whose achievements are so rare they nearly defy imagination.

Fans say they admire his blend of understated charm and herculean athletic prowess, which earned him a record $700 million to play with the Los Angeles Dodgers for 10 years.

When he landed in Seoul on Friday for a series of games that will open the Major League Baseball season, he was greeted at the airport by a crowd resembling one that might arrive for a K-pop idol.

“It doesn’t matter if he’s from Japan,” Yoo Jee-ho, a veteran South Korean sports journalist. “If you’re a baseball fan, you appreciate that kind of talent.”

Ohtani’s arrival at Incheon International Airport on Friday drew cameras and a crowd of enthusiastic fans. Credit…Lee Jin-Man/Associated Press

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