Exploring Shohei Ohtani’s roots: Ben Verlander’s Japan diary, Day 1

By Ben Verlander
FOX Sports MLB Analyst

Hello from Yokohama, Japan.

This has been a year in the making. I’ve been dying to dive into Japanese baseball culture and learn about Shohei Ohtani‘s origins. Today, I stepped off the plane in Tokyo, and it all hit me that it was actually happening. My DM’s have been overrun. I’m blown away by the generosity and energy of the baseball fans here. I had plenty of time on the plane last night and this morning to check them out, answered for hours and still didn’t make a dent. 

Here’s what the past day has looked like:

Thursday: Get on a 12-hour flight at 1 a.m. I really tried to get ahead of the jet lag, so I waited to fall asleep — but me being me, I had a hard time sleeping on the plane. So I’m currently going on about 36 hours with maybe two hours of sleep.

Got through Customs. Our producer almost ruined the trip before it began by bringing beef jerky.


We were immediately reminded what a culture shock this is. If it weren’t for our translator, Masa, we’d be dealing with a whole new set of challenges. I’ve gone to a lot of places around the world, but Japan is certainly way different from the rest. 

In other countries, even if the predominant language isn’t English, I can at least put together some letters, and many people can speak some English. In Japan, that’s not the case, and there are no letters for me to try piecing together. All we have are Japanese and Chinese characters, and it’s not always easy to find people who speak English.

It makes me think about Shohei coming to the United States. The culture shock I was hit with today is what he has had to deal with every day in the U.S. Luckily, I have my translator, Masa, and luckily Shohei has Ippei Mizuhara.

Where we’re going: Tokyo, Iwate, Sapporo

My goal is to learn as much about Japanese baseball culture as I can while also gaining a better understanding of where it all started for Ohtani. We’re extremely lucky to be here. Tourists can’t come to Japan right now. So I’m very grateful to get a chance to visit for work and will do my best to make it feel like you guys are along on this journey with me.

One thing that has always been important to me — and continues to be important — is the Japanese following I have gained throughout this whole process. I can’t wait to hold meet-ups at these locations and get to know some die-hard baseball fans.

Every day while on this journey, I will be hosting a Flippin’ Bats podcast breaking down everything that I saw, learned and experienced the day before. This is going to be special, and I want to relay that as best I can.

Big MLB news that made it here to Japan

Albert Pujols is sitting at 690 home runs. He has a .415 batting average since the All-Star Break with five home runs and 15 RBIs. He leads the league in RBIs among all players with 45 at-bats in that span.

Over his past two games, Shohei is 7-for-9 with a home run and four RBIs. As a pitcher, he’s top-five in most categories this season. As a hitter, he’s top-10 in most.

The Mets called up top prospect Brett Baty and saw him hit a home run in his first at-bat while the Yankees called up Oswaldo Cabrera and Estevan Florial.

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 @BenVerlander.

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