Ohtani focused ahead of MLB season opener in Seoul

Japan's <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Shohei Ohtani;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Shohei Ohtani</a> says focused on baseball despite being the subject of sky-high global interest (Richard A. Brooks)
Japan's Shohei Ohtani says focused on baseball despite being the subject of sky-high global interest (Richard A. Brooks)

Shohei Ohtani said Saturday he was focused on baseball despite being the subject of sky-high global interest as he prepares to make his Los Angeles Dodgers regular-season debut in South Korea.

The Dodgers will play the San Diego Padres in two games in Seoul to open the Major League Baseball season next week, with new signing Ohtani the undoubted main attraction.

The Japanese superstar joined the Dodgers on a 10-year deal worth $700 million in December and further ramped up already massive attention when he announced last month that he had got married.

Ohtani said he was "grateful for the attention" but he stressed that playing baseball came first.

"I try to only concentrate on what I have to do," the 29-year-old told reporters in Seoul.

"Whatever is in front of me, that's what I focus on."

Ohtani had kept his wife's identity firmly under wraps but he posted a first picture of them together on social media on Friday as they prepared to board the flight to South Korea.

She was identified as former basketball player Mamiko Tanaka, following weeks of intense speculation.

Hundreds of fans greeted them at South Korea's Incheon airport on Friday, with some screaming Ohtani's name and holding up shirts with his name on them.

Ohtani, nicknamed "Sho-Time", said he was excited to be in South Korea and looking forward to getting the new season started.

"Japan and South Korea have played each other in lots of really exciting games and I used to watch them when I was a kid," he said.

"I always thought South Korea were a really great team. I'm really happy to play here and it was nice to see so many people welcoming us at the airport."

Ohtani won his second American League Most Valuable Player award in six seasons with the Los Angeles Angels last year but departed for free agency after failing to enjoy even a winning season, much less reach the MLB playoffs.

Known for his skills as a pitcher as well as swinging the bat, he will not take the mound in 2024 after undergoing right elbow surgery last September.

Team-mate Freddie Freeman said the attention that Ohtani brings to the Dodgers "means something exciting happened in the off-season".

"I think we're starting to get used to it a little bit, but I don't know if anyone can get used to this," said Freeman.

"This is exciting, it's fun for us, and it's fun to be playing in front of a lot more new fans this year."

The Dodgers also signed Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who won the World Baseball Classic alongside Ohtani last year.