Los Angeles Angels breakout star Shohei Ohtani apparently isn’t content with being one of the most versatile, dynamic players the sport has seen since Babe Ruth. In a press conference held last Thursday at an Illinois pre-owned Toyota dealership, the league-leading pitcher and power hitter announced his intentions to begin training with Joe Gibbs Racing for the upcoming NASCAR Cup Series in one of the brand’s race-ready Camrys.
The 27-year-old is not only one of the most exciting pitching talents in the modern game but has also led Major League Baseball’s home run race for most of the season. The Japanese phenom has been with the Angels since 2018 when he left the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of Nippon Professional Baseball’s Pacific League to make a name for himself stateside on the sport’s biggest stage. After making a definitive splash in baseball circles, Ohtani will now bring his talents to NASCAR, where the fleet-footed athlete will get the chance to display his need for speed on the track.
“It’s go-time for Sho-time,” says Ohtani’s agent Rick Smalls, seated in front of no less than 16 promotional items bearing the same slogan. “As Shohei’s performance in July’s MLB All-Star Game proved, this is a man that can do it all. Up until now, he’s only applied that talent to the baseball diamond, but we believe that he can bring the same level of dominance to nearly any competition he enters,” says Smalls.
The ambitious career change is even more impressive when one considers Ohtani’s scant driving history. Prior to 2020, the two-way player had never been behind the wheel of a car. Japan’s robust public transportation infrastructure, combined with a lengthy and expensive licensing process, saw Ohtani skip the right of passage in his own country. The newfound obsession is somewhat surprising given Ohtani’s current location, as few drivers look upon the smoggy specter of Los Angeles freeway traffic and find themselves wanting to do MORE driving.
“I think that’s actually a big part of it,” says Smalls. “If Shohei were in a city where you can actually drive faster than 20 mph for any significant length of time, perhaps he wouldn’t feel this need for speed.” With an annual salary of more than $4.5 million, reports say Ohtani has been particularly vexed by his inability to max out some of the supercars now within his price range. “What good is a Lamborghini if you spend half your commute in bumper-to-bumper traffic?” asks Smalls.
The legendary gridlock has hampered the baseball player’s ability to experience high-speed driving for the time being, but Ohtani is no stranger to life in the fast lane. The 6’4”, 210-pounder is a surprising speedster, with scouts clocking his batter’s box to first base time at a blistering 3.8 seconds. While impressive, it’s still a long way from a decent NASCAR time, with the typical race car covering the 90-foot base path in .307 seconds.
With no danger of the perennial AL West basement dwellers making a playoff appearance, Ohtani plans to commence training with Joe Gibbs Racing at their Charlotte, NC headquarters soon after the regular season concludes on October 3. “That’s probably the best perk to playing with the Angels; you can almost be certain your post-season will be wide open,” says Smalls.
If auto racing doesn’t work out, Ohtani’s agent says he’s been in talks with the BBC about pursuing the player’s second choice side-project: a spot on the Great British Bake-Off. “If you think his splitter is nasty, just wait until you see what this man can do with fondant,” says the agent.