The Korea Herald


Ohtani leads Dodgers to S. Korea as they prepare for historic MLB series

By Yonhap

Published : March 15, 2024 - 20:11

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Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Dodgers arrives in South Korea to prepare for Major League Baseball's Seoul Series. (Yonhap) Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Dodgers arrives in South Korea to prepare for Major League Baseball's Seoul Series. (Yonhap)

Led by their Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani, the Los Angeles Dodgers landed in South Korea on Friday for historic Major League Baseball games in Seoul, drawing thunderous cheers from hundreds of fans camped out at the country's main airport.

The Dodgers arrived at Incheon International Airport, just west of Seoul, around 2:30 p.m. Their charter flight touched down about 14 hours after the San Diego Padres, their opponents for the two-game Seoul Series set for Wednesday and Thursday.

The two games between the National League West rivals at Gocheok Sky Dome will be the first MLB regular season games to be played in South Korea.

Ohtani, the two-time American League MVP who signed a 10-year, US$700 million contract with the Dodgers in December, was the first player to emerge from behind the gates, surrounded by security personnel and trailed by his wife, Mamiko Tanaka. Ohtani, an intensely private star, revealed last month that he was married and then posted a photo with Tanaka for the first time on his Instagram just before boarding his Korea-bound flight.

Members of Ohtani's fan club in South Korea, called "Shotime Korea," held up a banner adorned with images of Ohtani in a Dodgers uniform and the English word "Welcome." They chanted, "Let's go Dodgers! Let's go Shohei!" before the player walked out in his white T-shirt and black sweats.

About a dozen MLB fans had stayed overnight at the airport after first greeting San Diego players around 2 a.m. Friday. A few Japanese tourists who landed at Incheon around the same time as the Dodgers lucked out and got a glimpse of the biggest baseball star from their country.

Ohtani was a two-way sensation for the other Los Angeles team, the Angels, for the past several years, but will serve as designated hitter for the Dodgers after undergoing an elbow operation this past offseason.

Other players followed Ohtani out of the gates, including the Dodgers' two other former MVP winners, Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman.

The trio will have a joint press conference at Gocheok on Saturday.

An unidentified person threw an egg in the direction of Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, though it didn't strike him and hit the floor. Police and airport authorities were unable to catch the person on the spot.

The Dodgers boast a strong fan base in South Korea thanks to their history with Korean stars. Park Chan-ho, the first South Korean player in MLB history, made his debut with the Dodgers in 1994. More recently, Ryu Hyun-jin was a key cog in the Dodgers' rotation from 2013 to 2019. In 2019, Ryu led MLB with a 2.32 ERA and finished second in the NL Cy Young Award voting -- the best finish ever by a Korean pitcher.

Park will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the first Seoul Series game.

The Dodgers haven't had a South Korean player since Ryu left in free agency after the 2019 season, but they still boast a star-studded roster led by Ohtani.

The Dodgers also signed a highly coveted Japanese pitcher, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, to a 12-year, $325 million deal in January. It's the largest deal for a pitcher in MLB history.

Before the regular season series, the Dodgers will play two exhibition games: against the Kiwoom Heroes of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) at noon Sunday and the South Korean national team at 7 p.m. Monday.

The two regular-season games will feature a Japanese pitcher from each club: Yu Darvish of the Padres going up against Tyler Glasnow in Game 1, and then Yamamoto of the Dodgers taking the mound against Joe Musgrove in the second game. (Yonhap)