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Shohei Ohtani’s only worry now is being baseball’s $700 million man

You’re the face of Major League Baseball, the $700 million man, and then your best friend and translator betrays you and allegedly stole $16 million from your bank account to pay off gambling debts. MLB’s investigation into a scandal that has spread around the world, from here to Japan and back, has thankfully exonerated you. Your reputation and ever-growing legacy will not be lost.

The scandal that has swept the globe, from here to Japan and back again, is no reason to lose sleep over it any more.

“Now that I’m able to do that, I also understand that my mental feelings off the field shouldn’t affect my ability,” Shohei Ohtani said through a new translator before the game against the Mets on Memorial Day was rained out. “I have absolute confidence in my ability to play without being affected by anything that happens off the field.”

Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani AP
Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. AP

His latest concern is that he has been playing through a strained hamstring since May 16, when he contended with his foot while attempting a pickoff throw at first base.

“The next day it got worse and the more I ran the more pain I felt,” he said.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts estimated Ohtani was about 90 percent fit over the weekend in Cincinnati.

“I’m getting better every day,” Ohtani said. “I’m a lot better today than I was yesterday.”

Ohtani doesn’t believe his hamstring is the cause.

“Obviously my leg isn’t feeling great,” said Ohtani, who ended a 0-for-10 slump with an astounding triple on Saturday, “but I don’t think it’s affecting my swing, personally.”

It’s been sobering for opposing pitchers and managers to see what Ohtani (13 homers, 35 RBIs, 1.024 OPS, .336 batting average — best in the majors as of Monday) has been doing at the plate as a DH after being relieved of pitching duties following his second elbow surgery this season. “It’s hard to say at this point,” Ohtani said when asked if not pitching is affecting him.

But Ohtani said he misses pitching.

A fan holds up an autograph for Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Dodgers before a baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday, May 25. AP

“You get a little bit nervous going into a match,” he said, “so in a way I miss that atmosphere, but right now I’m just focused on getting better every day.”

Dodgers sideline reporter and host Kirsten Watson was questioning Ohtani and his newest interpreter during an eight-minute scrum Monday beneath the Dodgers dugout. I asked her if Ohtani had shown any signs of stress during or after the scandal involving disgraced interpreter Ippei Mizuhara spread around the world.

“I think you could see that emotion when he first spoke to the media and released his statement after all of this,” she said. “I mean, at the end of the day, it’s also like losing a friend. Obviously there were bigger things that happened, but that was a good friend of his, and I think losing that trust is very tough. But I truly believe that was the only time we saw something.”

“What I learned from him is that he’s so good at compartmentalizing things, from the media coverage to the fan support that surrounds him. He’s so good at separating everything: ‘I’m doing my job, I’m here to do this, this is my focus.’ He’s been a superstar in America for quite a long time, and he’s been a superstar in Japan for a long time, so I think he learned that very quickly. So even when he came to the Dodgers, he had already established his ability to compartmentalize everything. … It’s really amazing how he can handle the pressure, the excitement, the coverage, everything. Of all the athletes that I’ve been around or worked with or just had the privilege of covering, there’s no one who’s received as much coverage as he has, especially in American sports.”

Shohei Ohtani, number 17, of the Los Angeles Dodgers runs to first base during the first inning of a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on May 24, 2024 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Getty Images

Los Angeles honored him with Shohei Ohtani Day on May 17, his uniform number. New York wouldn’t have been scared of him. Alas, for a Mets franchise that viewed 2004 as a bridge to 2025 and beyond (now over the hump), Ohtani was a bridge too far.

Ohtani (10 years, $700 million) agreed to defer all but $2 million of his $70 million salary, meaning he will receive $68 million annually from 2034 to 2043. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman made no such deferral offer. Juan Soto (one year, $31 million) a month later was no consolation prize.

The Dodgers enter Tuesday’s two-game series having lost five straight, but they have just 6 hits in 47 at-bats (.127) with runners in scoring position. Ohtani has just 1 hit in 6 at-bats.

“It’s a little difficult right now with the schedule and the time change and the time difference, but all we can do is just turn the page and focus on the next game,” Ohtani said.

And rest easy once again as the $700 million face of Major League Baseball.