Shohei Ohtani steals show at Little League Classic

The Angels’ MVP frontrunner outshines his teammate, the injured Mike Trout, with little leaguers

No player has captured the hearts of baseball fans — particularly younger ones — more than Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani, who was fawned over by little leaguers during MLB's Little League Classic on Sunday in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. (Tom E. Puskar / AP Photo)

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — When a player steps up to bat in a Little League World Series game, the television broadcast shows a graphic introducing him to the viewing audience. That’s a standard part of a televised baseball game at any level, but underneath the player’s name instead of the typical stats — home runs, RBIs, average — the little leaguers get to share a bit of personal information, including their favorite MLB player.

This year, the runaway leaders in that category were a pair of Los Angeles Angels stars: Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout.

The players at this year’s Little League World Series got to see their favorite players up close and personal when Ohtani and Trout paid a visit to the complex before their game against Cleveland in the Little League Classic.

“It’s my first time being here,” Trout said of the Williamsport experience. “Seeing the kids’ reaction in the dugouts and around the complex — looking back, if I was one of those kids seeing a major league player, I’d be ecstatic too. That’s what it’s about. It’s for the kids. … I told them I was in their shoes as well. I never played in the Little League World Series, but all of them have a dream of being an MLB baseball player. I was telling them I might be seeing some of them on TV someday.”

While Trout has been the undisputed best player in baseball for the past decade or so, he appears to be playing second fiddle to his teammate.

While reminiscing about his own experience in Little League, Trout recalled, “I played shortstop. I pitched. Kind of what Ohtani’s doing right now in The Show.”

Ohtani has enjoyed a breakout season, one that will most likely end with an MVP Award, as he dominates both on the mound and at the plate in a two-way performance that hasn’t been seen in more than a century.

With Trout sidelined for much of the year with a calf injury, Ohtani has effortlessly stepped in as both the face of the Angels and the sport. They changed the rules of baseball to allow him to pitch and hit in the All-Star Game after he was named to the team at two different positions.

“It’s special,” Trout said of Ohtani. “Shohei’s a different cat. The Detroit game kind of put the whole season in perspective.”

That was Ohtani’s most recent start, last week. He struck out eight and allowed just one run over eight innings to move to 8-1 on the year. Before taking the mound for his final inning, in the eighth, he came to the plate and hit a home run to give the Angels a bit of insurance in a 3-1 win.

“He goes eight innings, 90 pitches, then he hits his 40th home run (of the year, which leads all of baseball). That’s pretty special, and it’s not even September yet. We’re just very fortunate. When he first came over, that’s what we expected from him. It took him a little bit to learn how it is over here, but he’s doing great this year.”

It’s safe to say that the Little League World Series participants have noticed. The teams were given the lower-level seats ringing the infield for the MLB Little League Classic and were very vocal in their support of Ohtani, chanting “Take him deep,” during his first at-bat to lead off the game — Ohtani singled in that at-bat, one of three times he reached base in the game. He also stole second for his 19th steal of the year.

“They were loud,” said Cleveland’s interim manager DeMarlo Hale. “We had a group behind our dugout (from Ohio), and actually, they were cheering for Ohtani, which was interesting. I thought they were supposed to be on our side.”

Needless to say, the other Angels are used to handling Trout and Ohtani questions, the most common being, “What is it like?”

“They’re just normal guys to us,” said David Fletcher. “It’s a cool thing to see them every day. We see a different side of them than the rest of the world gets to see, but obviously, everything they do, it’s impressive to have a front-row seat to that.”

“We get a look into the work ethic,” said Jo Adell. “A lot of times, people not in the clubhouse don’t get to see exactly what goes into putting on that performance. You need to understand, there’s real work that comes with that. But it’s kind of cool to see they’re just like me.”

Adell then smiled as he added. “They don’t play like it, but they’re normal people.”