During the opening days of spring training this week, the Dodgers have been profuse in their praise of superstar free-agent addition Shohei Ohtani.
Players, coaches and staff have marveled at his work ethic and tantalizing skill set. People around the Camelback Ranch facility have appreciated his demeanor and reveled in brief introductions with him.
It has all made for a strong first impression from Ohtani, the teammate.
“I still got to pinch myself to see him in a Dodger uniform,” manager Dave Roberts said.
The media circus that has accompanied Ohtani’s arrival, however, hasn’t exactly been received the same.
Compared to a normal Dodgers spring training, when maybe a dozen reporters would be around camp on a typical day, this year’s opening week has seen upward of 70-80 reporters at the facility every day — many of them from Japanese outlets meticulously covering Ohtani and fellow Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto.
Suddenly, every little detail of spring training has been magnified.
And it’s not just Ohtani and Yamamoto catching a glare from the spotlight.
When reporters discovered Gavin Lux spent time training with Ohtani at Dodger Stadium over the winter, the shortstop was swarmed Friday afternoon by several Japanese camera crews, along with a Times reporter, to ask about his early interactions with the two-way star.
Walker Buehler, another participant of offseason Dodger Stadium workouts alongside Ohtani, fielded a similar line of questions during a media scrum in front of his locker Sunday, the pack of reporters surrounding him stretching three rows deep.
“When you get kind of the personalities and the following that those two guys get,” Buehler said, “it kind of becomes a little bit more like a football Sunday every day.”
Then there was Jason Heyward, who was approached by another media mob Saturday, thanks largely to the words of his manager a day earlier.
When Roberts was asked Friday morning about the extra media surrounding Ohtani — and the two-time MVP’s reputation for rarely speaking to reporters directly — Roberts compared it to his playing days alongside Barry Bonds with the San Francisco Giants, when he often spoke on behalf of his superstar teammate during Bonds’ chase of MLB’s home run record.
“I was that player, a teammate, that had to answer a lot of questions,” Roberts said. “Because other teammates didn’t care to.”
Asked who could fill a similar role on this year’s team, Roberts pointed in Heyward’s direction.
“Put the questions towards Jason Heyward,” he said, laughing. “Japanese media, just go to Jason Heyward.”
The message was received.
Surrounded by another dozen or so cameras and microphones, Heyward took the responsibility in stride, saying he’d be happy to answer Ohtani-related questions when he had time during his daily routine.
However, Heyward also made sure to note that, “Shohei is the guy to talk about Shohei.”
As for Ohtani’s relative lack of media availability (he rarely spoke more than once per week while playing for the Angels), Heyward offered more perspective.
“When Shohei is not available, then that means he’s also wanting to do his job,” Heyward said. “Prepare for the Dodgers. Prepare for himself to be in a good mental space, physical space. I think we can all respect that.”
Any suggestion of Ohtani causing a potential distraction in his new clubhouse was quickly shot down this week.
“If you let it … I think that, yeah, it can be a distraction,” Roberts said. “But I don’t think it will be for our club.”
Echoed Heyward, cracking a sly grin at the crowd of reporters around him: “It’s harder if you guys make it harder. But, if anything, it’s what you deal with every season as it is. … I’m not really paying attention to that stuff. I’m just getting ready for every day as best I can, and go from there.”
On Saturday, Roberts wasn’t afraid to give reporters a few more go-to guys for Ohtani quotes, either.
“I will think about option B and C,” Roberts said with a laugh. “I think if you sprinkle a little Freddie [Freeman] and Mookie [Betts] and Austin Barnes, I think we’ll get it covered.”
Roberts was mostly joking, but Dodgers’ media relations staff would be smart to clear space in front of each of those players’ lockers all the same. With Ohtani here, the circus will only continue to ramp up. And the less he and Yamamoto speak to reporters this season, the more that burden will fall upon their new teammates.