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Shohei Ohtani makes winning debut for Dodgers in Seoul MLB opener. ‘The best player you’d see in 100 years,’ says one fan

Seoul, South Korea CNNShohei Ohtani’s Los Angeles Dodgers brought Major League Baseball (MLB) to South Korea on Wednesday night, overshadowing Seoul hometown star Kim Ha-seong’s San Diego Padres in a 5-2 victory.

The first clash of the two-game Seoul Series opened the MLB season and showcased an international appeal brought to the sport by an increasing lineup of Asian stars led by two-way Japanese star Ohtani, who joined the Dodgers in the offseason, signing the richest deal ever made by a major leaguer.

Earlier on Wednesday, South Korea police said they had received a report about an email threatening to detonate a bomb during the game to hurt Ohtani.

About 150 police officers were dispatched to the stadium to search for any threats, but they found no explosives.

The biggest name in baseball worldwide

Clearly, thousands of those in Seoul’s Gocheok Skydome were there to see Ohtani, who delivered two hits, an RBI and a stolen base to please the crowd.

Ohtani’s wife – Japanese basketball player Mamiko Tanaka – was also in attendance, with the ESPN broadcast showing her giving high fives to some of the women in nearby seats after one of her husband’s hits.

Ohtani may be the biggest name in baseball worldwide, but in South Korea, the top billing belongs to Padres shortstop Kim Ha-seong.

The Korean star garnered the biggest cheers from the crowd and his San Diego team clearly was the home team – and it deserved to be. After all, the Skydome used to be Kim’s home stadium when he played for the Kiwoom Heroes in the Korea Baseball Organization’s (KBO) League.

When Padres starter Yu Darvish got out of a bases-loaded jam with a strikeout in the top of the third inning, the stadium erupted with applause.

But when the Dodgers loaded the bases again in the eighth inning with no outs, it was too much for the Padres to turn back, as the LA team erupted for four runs to seal the win.

The Dodgers rally drew loud cheers from the fans, demonstrating a local excitement that MLB decided to bring its biggest star to Seoul to start the season.

This was an MLB game that showcased Asia both on and off the diamond. Not only were the most popular players Asian, the between-innings entertainment featured each team’s cheerleaders performing K-pop routines.

Korean fan Park Jun-hyuk said he was at the stadium to see Ohtani.

Ohtani “is like the best player you’d see in 100 years. And the fact that such a player is in South Korea as a Dodgers player to play in the opening game is so meaningful that I decided to come here,” Park told CNN.

Motoki Sato, a 26-year-old from Japan, said he’s followed Ohtani since he was a high school star, though this was his first time to see the two-way superstar in person. It was also Sato’s first Dodgers game.

“Previously, I supported the Angles, the team where Ohtani was at,” Sato said as he smiled.

He was wearing Dodger colors on Wednesday, like thousands of others in the crowd, many of them scoring their merchandise in a souvenir tent outside the stadium before gametime.

More than two hours before the first pitch, a line wound around the MLB merchandise tent as staff let fans inside in groups to prevent crowding in the store. Anybody wearing team merchandise had it tagged before going in.

Inside, less expensive souvenirs were mostly sold out, while the prized Ohtani number jerseys were pulled off the shelves almost as soon as they were displayed.

The Padres side of the store was less frenzied, but still busy. South Korea’s Kim was a favorite.

The Seoul Series, a two-game series between the two teams, features the first MLB regular-season games played in Korea. It’s the ninth time that MLB has opened its season outside the 50 US states and Canada. The last time that happened was in 2019, when the Oakland Athletics faced the Seattle Mariners in Tokyo.

Chan Ho Park, who 30 years ago became the first Korean player in MLB when he was with the Dodgers, threw the ceremonial first pitch.

Padres shortstop Kim, who is from Bucheon (about 15.5 miles away from Seoul), received a warm ovation from the crowd for his first at-bat in the bottom of the second inning.

He was making his return to the ballpark where he played for the Kiwoom Heroes. He acknowledged the crowd by raising his batting helmet. Kim went 0-for-3 with a walk on the night.

Brenda and Gerardo Marquez had traveled from San Diego to Seoul for the two-game series, lucky winners of tickets for reserved for Padres fans.

They had to see Kim play in his home country.

“It’s all about Ha-Seong Kim for us tonight, so looking for that win and to see him here at home,” said Brenda Marquez.

Gerardo said the couple, who came to Seoul with their three young daughters, made reservations to be here even before they won the ticket lottery.

The Padres might have lost, but the trip was still a win-win for the Marquez family. Their daughters are huge BTS fans – “obsessed with them,” said Gerardo – while Brenda said she would have been satisfied to be just near the stadium.

“We would have just walked around outside if we hadn’t gotten (tickets),” she said after her family got to see Kim on his home turf – and those K-pop routines between innings.

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