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Nightengale: Angels Pull Off Stunner, Win Shohei Ohtani Sweepstakes

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The Angels' Shohei Ohtani poses for photos during his introductory news conference on Saturday in Anaheim, California. Photo: AP

We don’t even know him, but we’re mesmerized by him.

We’ve never seen him play, but we’re fascinated by him.

Come on, has there ever been a free agent in baseball history that has captivated Major League Baseball like Shohei Ohtani, stunning us with every single move he made.

Ohtani, the Babe Ruth of Japan, saving his latest trick for last, made the staggering decision Friday announcing that he will be sign with the Los Angeles Angels.

Really.

The ugly step-sister of the Los Angeles market, the team that L.A. has forgotten, suddenly just cold-cocked the powerful New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs to bring Ohtani to little ol’ Anaheim, Calif.

This is the Angels’ greatest free-agent heist since they signed Reggie Jackson.

They have the greatest player in the game in Mike Trout, a shoo-in Hall of Famer in Albert Pujols, a power-hitter in Justin Upton, a Gold Glove whiz in Andrelton Simmons, and now have the most fascinating player in all of baseball.

Shohei Ohtani is about to become a household name in the U.S., and he belongs to the Angels, who gets the man every single team coveted.

Trout may be getting married Saturday, but no one is going to provide a greater present than GM Billy Eppler who delivered Ohtani.

Instantly, the Angels are a legitimate AL West contender.

“Awesome,’’ Pujols said.

The Angels not only get a two-way player who immediately becomes their ace, and a potential force in their lineup, but he also becomes the biggest gate attraction in the game.

Forget Disneyland, Angel Stadium is now the Happiest Place on Earth.

Really, you can’t help but be happy for the Angels, who haven’t won a playoff game since 2009, for simply signing a 23-year-old kid with the innocence of a 6-year-old seeing his first bicycle under the Christmas tree.

You’ve got to admire a guy who ignores the idea of waiting two years to sign a $200 million contract as a free agent, snubs all of the big-market clubs, and signs with the Angels where he hopes to simply blend into Orange County as one of Trout’s co-workers.

He’s a small-time kid with huge values. He didn’t care about the market-size. Branding. Or Hollywood.

This is a guy who had a $200 million lottery ticket, ripped it up, and decided to go to work at the nearby McDonald’s.

How can anyone begrudge an athlete like this?

Ohtani just wants to play baseball, and it was baseball that attracted him to the blue-collar Angels.

“While there has been much speculation about what would drive Shohei’s decision,’’ agent Nez Balelo said, “what mattered to him most wasn’t market size, time zone or league, but that he felt a true bond with the Angels.

“He sees this as the best environment to develop and reach the next level and attain his career goals.

“More than ever, I believe this is not only a special talent but a man of special character, and I’m like everyone else, I’m excited to see him in Major League Baseball.’’

And there’s where you’ll see him, on the playing field, each and every day for the Angels, whether he’s on the mound, at the plate, or on the field.

The Angels shouldn’t have to ever worry about this small-town kid falling in love with the limelight, and going off the deep end at night.

Ohtani would rather be riding the tea cups at Disneyland every afternoon than driving across town to the Playboy Mansion at night.

Then again, considering he still doesn’t have a driver’s license, he may not be going anywhere besides his home and Angel Stadium, anyways.

In time, we’ll see what kind of player he develops into as he becomes acclimated to life in the big leagues. We’ll find out whether he can really become a 20-game winner, a consistent 30-homer/30-stolen base player, and a Gold Glove outfielder.

He could be a star in the making, or a kid who had no chance to live up to the hype.

But no matter what happens, the kid has got our attention.

Oh, boy, does he ever.

By Bob Nightengale

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook

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