‘Baseball is our language.’ Love of the game (and Shohei Ohtani) runs deep among Japanese Canadians

Sean Akiyama and his family crowded around the television in Toronto last Sunday to catch a performance they had long been waiting for.

Shohei Ohtani was making more than his season debut as a pitcher against the Chicago White Sox. As he began his fourth season with the Los Angeles Angels, the 26-year-old Japanese star finally got to hit and pitch in the same game, living up to the word he has been synonymous with back home: Nitoryu, or two-sword samurai.

Akiyama, his mother, father, brother and grandmother watched Ohtani pitch 4 2/3 innings — allowing one earned run on two hits, with seven strikeouts and five walks — and launch a solo home run in three at-bats.

He was a fan before the two-way sensation signed with the Angels in December of 2017, and still has old calendars on his wall featuring Ohtani from his time with Japan’s Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. Akiyama’s mom bought Ohtani shirts for each family member when he signed with L.A.

“It’s straight up awesome. You don’t really have two-way players ever. It’s really exciting,” Akiyama says. “As a Japanese Canadian, it’s freaking amazing that you have someone like Shohei Ohtani doing things like that.”

A total of 63 Japanese-born players have appeared in at least one major-league game, eight of them active this season. Japan has a rich baseball history — rivalling sumo wrestling as the country’s most popular sport. And that love of…

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