MLB

Brandon Nimmo hopeful ‘exceptional’ Shohei Ohtani could play for Mets in London

By Sports Desk December 06, 2023

New York Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo remains optimistic free agent Shohei Ohtani, widely regarded as the world’s best baseball player, could be part of his team set to play in London next summer.

Generational Japanese two-way talent Ohtani was two weeks ago named American League MVP for the second time in three years and draws frequent comparisons to Babe Ruth, still probably the most recognisable baseball name in Britain and beyond despite the former Boston Red Sox and New York Yankee slugger having been dead for 75 years.

Ohtani, reportedly within days of deciding on his next destination and poised to fetch an MLB-record free-agent fee, is historically peerless in his dual-role as a starting pitcher and batter, so much so that a new MLB rule introduced in 2022 – effectively designed to address his singular abilities – is commonly referred to as ‘the Ohtani rule’.

Nimmo, whose Mets are set to play the Philadelphia Phillies at the London Stadium next June, said: “(Ohtani) really is everything that everyone says he is. He’s unbelievable. He hits the ball harder than everyone, he throws the ball harder than everyone, he runs faster than everyone.

“He really is the special talent that everyone has hyped him up to be. He’s one of those special, once-in-a-generation players.

“I know that our front office and our owner and our president were very excited about the prospect of getting him. I know we’re going to be in on (him), I just don’t know where it is going to lead to.”

In baseball, unlike cricket, players are pitchers or combine a fielding position and batting, save for the “designated hitter” (DH), a batting-only position which typically replaces pitchers in the order. But under ‘the Ohtani rule’, he can still serve as a DH even after being pulled as a pitcher.

The DH has featured since 1973 in the American League and National League in 2022, but, even before its universal adoption, no pitchers came anywhere close to Ohtani’s prowess at the plate. He has won MLB’s best DH award for three consecutive seasons.

In 2023, he hit the fourth most home runs in MLB, all while striking out 167 batters and finishing with a 3.14 earned run average.

While the Mets have been linked to Ohtani, who is rumoured to be considering deals worth between USD 500m-600m (£396,205,000-£475,446,000), the latest reports suggest they may be out of the picture, with the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Toronto Blue Jays, Atlanta Braves and former club the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim among those considered front-runners for his services.

Whoever ultimately signs Ohtani will likely have to wait a full season until he is fit enough to pitch following surgery to his elbow in September, though he should be available to hit come opening day 2024.

Next summer’s London Series marks the third time MLB has made the trip to Britain, in an ongoing attempt to grow the global reach of a game that has variously been accused of being too American to find a footing in the UK, too similar to cricket to take off, and conversely too confusing for the uninitiated to understand.

Nimmo, however, will happily evangelise for the game’s global potential, and agrees that fact that it is a Japanese talent quickly becoming MLB’s most recognisable face – even cracking highlight reels in the United Kingdom – is important as the sport tries to conquer new territory.

He added: “One of the areas where we’ve struggled in MLB is making the players world recognised, and now Shohei has that star quality that can bridge that gap. He’s an integral piece to us growing the game worldwide.

“We need to market him. We need to get him out there. I think a great opening and a great door is to be like, check out this guy.

“He’s not from the States, he’s larger than life, he’s doing something that hasn’t been done before, since one of the great baseball legends like Babe Ruth. Those guys are mythical.”

:: New York Mets will play Philadelphia Phillies in the MLB World Tour: London Series 2024 on June 8–9 at London Stadium

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