Baseball may be America's pastime, but in recent years, it has lost some of its cultural cache as the NFL and NBA grow in popularity.
The NFL owns an entire day (Sundays), and the Super Bowl is basically a national holiday at this point. The NBA has built its brand around its exciting, marketable superstars and its never-ceasing drama. Even European soccer has grown in popularity in the United States in recent years.
But Los Angeles Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani is hoping to return the sport to its glory days, when players like Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were larger-than-life, almost mythological heroes in the American zeitgeist.
“Baseball was born here, and I personally want baseball to be the most popular sport in the United States," he told GQ's Daniel Riley. "So if I can contribute in any way to help that, I'm more than open to it. But if you look at the whole baseball population in the world, it's a lot less than, like, soccer and basketball, because only select countries are really big on baseball. But in those countries where it's huge, it's unbelievably huge."
Ohtani is a superstar both on the mound and at the plate. This past season he was 9-2 on the mound with a 3.18 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 156 strikeouts in 130.1 innings. He was even better at the plate, hitting .257 with 46 homers, 100 RBI and 103 runs.
It was a Ruthian achievement and made him an obvious choice for the American League MVP. He's the headliner among a growing list of players bringing the fun back to a sport trying to find its niche with a younger audience. If anybody can return baseball to its former glory, it's a singular talent like Ohtani.