Shohei Ohtani’s Arrival Reflects Diversity of Dodgers Fans, and Los Angeles - The World News

Shohei Ohtani’s Arrival Reflects Diversity of Dodgers Fans, and Los Angeles

The fans had been gathering for more than an hour while the Arizona sunshine grew brighter by the minute. Parents nudged their children toward the front of the scrum, baseballs in hand, Sharpie pens at the ready for autographs.

At about 10 a.m., cheers and shouts erupted and excitement rippled through the crowd like an electric current. Jogging past and offering a demure wave was Shohei Ohtani, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ new two-way superstar.

It was only batting practice during spring training at Camelback Ranch in Phoenix, but it was my first glimpse of the frenzy around Ohtani, a Japanese player whose star power has remained strong despite a gambling scandal that led to the firing of his longtime interpreter and close friend.

At spring training, I met a lot of Japanese American Dodgers fans. For many of them, Ohtani’s arrival in Los Angeles has been a galvanizing moment, as the community faces gentrification in its historic home base, Little Tokyo, and an aging population. (You can read my full article about what Ohtani means to Japanese Americans in Los Angeles.)

Fans and team employees I spoke with highlighted how Ohtani’s arrival had also tapped into a diverse Dodgers fan base that reflects Los Angeles.

As I wandered the grounds of Camelback Ranch, the Dodgers’ spring training home, I heard lots of fans speaking Japanese or Spanish. Fans of all backgrounds wore Ohtani jerseys.

“What makes our country great is diversity, and I’m not trying to put the Dodgers on the same level as the United States, but from my lens that’s the way I view it,” Dave Roberts, the team’s manager, told me. “People all over the world recognize our brand, our organization, because there’s a lot of diversity and barrier-breakers that are synonymous with the Dodgers, and that’s very front-of-mind for me.”

Roberts was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and an African American father. He said a swell of anti-Asian sentiment during the pandemic inspired him to embrace his Asian American identity and speak out on the issue.

“I manage a baseball team, and that’s what I initially thought I was called to do,” he said. “But I quickly learned that when you manage the Dodgers, there’s a huge platform.”

Asian American fans told me that Ohtani’s presence as the face of Major League Baseball was meaningful.

Steve Brener, the team’s former head of publicity, compared the moment to “Fernandomania,” the phenomenon surrounding the Mexican star Fernando Valenzuela, whose time pitching for the Dodgers in the 1980s is credited with attracting scores of lifelong Latino Dodgers fans.

Valenzuela, who has been a Spanish language broadcaster for the team for more than two decades, held court in the spring training press room. I asked him if he had any advice for Ohtani.

He smiled and waved me off, shaking his head. “No advice,” he said. “People already love him in L.A.”

Shantell Martin is known for creating energetic line drawings, which she executes on walls, ceilings, sidewalks, galleries or any other surface that speaks to her.

Martin, who grew up in southeast London but now lives in Los Angeles, has a distinctive style of mark making — thick, black lines that can look like squiggles, dots and dashes and which invite the viewer to try to decode them. She says her works often reflect the history and conditions of the surface that she selects as her canvas.

Martin has earned acclaim for her work, which she creates both as public projects and as commercial collaborations.

“I think the ultimate core of my being is to progress and to evolve and to ask questions and to be curious,” Martin told The New York Times in a recent interview. “I’ve used the tool of the simple line to help facilitate that journey.”

A new show of Martin’s work featuring a mural and artworks completed on paper is on view at Vardan Gallery in L.A. until April 17.

Thanks for reading. We’ll be back tomorrow.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Soumya Karlamangla, Maia Coleman and Briana Scalia contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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