Ohtani says goodbye to Japanese baseball fans

Shohei Ohtani, who is bound for the Los Angeles Angels, bid farewell to fans of his former Japanese club Monday as he set off to join his new major league team.

Ohtani, a star pitcher and hitter, wore an Angels jersey to his news conference. He opened with an introduction in English, saying: “Long time, no see. I’m Shohei Ohtani. Welcome to my press conference. Please enjoy.” The Sapporo Dome crowd erupted in laughter and applause.

For five seasons, Ohtani called Sapporo home, playing for the Nippon Ham Fighters. He intends to be a starting pitcher and everyday hitter with the Angels.

Ohtani, the reigning Pacific League MVP, threw one final ceremonial pitch from the Sapporo Dome mound.

He spurned other major league offers to join two-time MVP Mike Trout and slugger Albert Pujols. The Angels are coming off their second consecutive losing season and haven’t won a playoff game since 2009.

Ohtani was 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA while slowed by thigh and ankle injuries. But those numbers don’t indicate the potential for a pitcher whose fastball has topped 100 mph.

Scouts are more divided on Ohtani’s ability to consistently hit big-league pitching. He hit .332 in 65 games with eight homers and 31 RBI last season, occasionally unleashing the tape-measure blasts that captivated prospective teams.

In 2016, Ohtani hit .322 with 22 home runs and 67 RBI in 104 games. He also was 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA.

Ohtani will attempt to chart a rare career path, the majors’ first regular two-way player in decades. He has drawn numerous, if unfair, comparisons to Babe Ruth, who excelled as a hitter and a pitcher early in his Hall of Fame career.

The Angels plan to use Ohtani as a hitter and a pitcher, and the 23-year-old player said he is confident he can succeed in both in a more challenging environment.

Since joining the Angels this month, it was revealed that Ohtani injured the elbow of his pitching arm at the end of this past season. A leaked medical report sent to all MLB clubs showed a Grade 1 sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament and he received a platelet-rich plasma injection in October.

But the injury is not considered serious and Japanese media reports last week showed Ohtani taking batting practice and throwing long toss.

The Angels have said they are not concerned.


WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Stanford fell out of The Associated Press women’s basketball poll for the first time since the 2001 season.

The Cardinal (6-6) saw their streak of 312 consecutive weeks in the Top 25 end. The remarkable run started with the 2001-02 preseason poll. Stanford lost at home last week to Western Illinois and Tennessee.

Only UConn, which remains the unanimous No. 1 team, has a longer active streak in the poll. The Huskies have been ranked for 458 consecutive weeks. Stanford’s streak is tied for third longest in the history of the poll. Tennessee had the longest run at 565 weeks. Stanford’s mark ties it with Duke.

UConn was followed by Notre Dame, Louisville, South Carolina and Mississippi State. With a light schedule because of the holidays, the top 17 teams stayed the same.

Oklahoma State replaced the Cardinal in the poll, coming in at No. 24.

MEN’S BASKETBALL: The new AP Top 25 poll features the same four teams at the top, led by No. 1 Villanova.

The Wildcats (12-0) received 43 of 65 first-place votes to stay at No. 1 for the third consecutive week.

Michigan State (12-1) was second and had 16 first-place votes, while third-ranked Arizona State (12-0) had six first-place votes to stay ahead of No. 4 Duke (12-1).

Texas A&M (11-1) climbed to fifth, followed by Xavier, West Virginia, Wichita State, Virginia and TCU to round out the top 10.

Four ranked teams took big slides after losses to unranked opponents last week. North Carolina fell eight spots to No. 13, and Gonzaga also fell eight spots to No. 20.

Now-No. 15 Miami and No. 16 Kentucky each fell nine spots.

n Bennie Boatwright drained a long 3-pointer with 4.1 seconds left and Southern California held off New Mexico State 77-72 in the title game of the Diamond Head Classic at Honolulu.

The Trojans (9-4) won the tournament for the second time in program history with its third straight win.


RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Vitaly Mutko, a Russian government official who has been dogged by allegations of involvement in doping, said he would temporarily step down as president of the Russian Football Union.

It’s a move apparently intended to deflect international criticism as Russia prepares to host the 2018 World Cup.


WORLD JUNIOR: The 10-nation championships opens Tuesday in Buffalo, New York, with a big question – whether parity finally will catch up to the Canadians.

The U.S. team includes goalie Jeremy Swayman of the University of Maine.

– News service report