Fans flocked to see Shohei Ohtani on Friday when he joined up with Samurai Japan as the team enters the final days of its preparations ahead of the World Baseball Classic.
Having arrived in Japan on Wednesday, Ohtani joined the national team at Vantelin Dome Nagoya for practice before two warm-up games against the Chunichi Dragons through Saturday. WBC rules prohibit MLB players from playing in games prior to official pre-tournament exhibitions, which begin in Japan on Monday.
Fans, allowed to shout and cheer this spring for the first time since 2020, roared when Ohtani took to the field during batting practice and worked out with the pitchers in the outfield.
"First of all, I have to learn guys' names and remember their faces," Ohtani said.
The team practiced wearing T-shirts that read "Ta-chan" on the back, a welcoming gesture to American outfielder Lars Taylor-Tatsuji Nootbaar, who was eligible for selection because his mother is Japanese.
Not all the excitement was indoors as a huge throng of fans showed up to the stadium early, hoping to get their hands on Japan WBC merchandise.
A company employee from neighboring Shizuoka Prefecture, 26-year-old Kei Miyamoto, took the day off, hoping to beat the crowd before the goods went on sale at noon. However, he said about 300 people were already lined up when he arrived around 7 a.m.
Despite waiting six hours, he could not get one of the replica shirts worn by Ohtani or fellow MLB pitcher Yu Darvish.
"Those were the two players on the top of my list," Miyamoto said.
Japan's MLB players, Ohtani, Nootbaar, Darvish and outfielder Masataka Yoshida, will be eligible to play at Kyocera Dome Osaka against the Hanshin Tigers on Monday and the Orix Buffaloes on Tuesday.
Manager Hideki Kuriyama's team will travel to Tokyo on Wednesday before facing China in their Pool B opener at Tokyo Dome on Thursday evening.