Shohei Ohtani gives Dodgers hope at All-Star Game beyond Freddie Freeman tamper bait

Shohei Ohtani really liked watching one particular player in Seattle.
93rd MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard
93rd MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

Shohei Ohtani's 2021 All-Star Game appearance was the definition of pressure-packed. An out-of-control hype machine turned him into a (gasp) disappointment in 2020, where an elbow injury post-Tommy John led to a pitching shutdown and a .190 average at the plate capped a year he called "pathetic."

In 2021, though, everything changed. His first half, at the age of 26, was a dream beyond even what had been forecast upon his arrival. That meant he not only had to participate in the midsummer classic; he had to own it. He did the Derby. He didn't win it. He started the game, both at DH and on the mound. He didn't earn MVP honors; those went to Vlad Guerrero Jr.

Thanks in part to the game's last-minute relocation from Atlanta to Colorado (but mostly thanks to his own stardom), Ohtani had to be the lead ambassador in a city he was entirely unfamiliar with, going through MLB's carwash while doing first-inning double duty and re-jiggering his swing for a home run hitting contest. Compared to that All-Star Game, his 2023 free agency classic was apparently a walk in the park.

Ohtani's midsummer recruitment went better than Aaron Judge's last summer, where infamous reporter Marly Rivera forced him to explain, on live television, what he would say to a crying New York child if he decided to follow the money elsewhere.

Free of the pressures of 2021, Ohtani actually seemed to be able to enjoy the light recruitment of Harold Reynolds questions about his future and Seattle crowd-wide chants. He was even comfortable enough to drop a little breadcrumb of his own, singling out Dodgers superstar Mookie Betts as the player he admired most at the festivities.

Dodgers' Mookie Betts should link up with Shohei Ohtani next year, probably. Could be fun.

Ohtani is an international superstar for his talents and charisma, but with superstardom comes learned intentionality. He's not walking around the red carpet and into the clubhouse aimlessly. Every move is manicured. As Dylan O. Hernández of the Los Angeles Times pointed out on Tuesday, he's only taken pregame BP three times this year, against the Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers. He's always putting on a show, whether he's starting on the mound and starring in the Home Run Derby or simply holding court in a clubhouse desperate for a piece of him.

Namedropping Betts was not an accident.

Free agency chatter wasn't just relegated to the sidelines and blogosphere on Tuesday night. It leaked into the broadcast, too, when both Betts and Freddie Freeman were mic'd up by FOX.

In a gesture that was only slightly less annoying than when Nathan Eovaldi had to explain pitching while pitching, Joe Davis tried to goad Freeman into tampering with Ohtani on live television, as the local crowd serenaded him with, "Come to Seattle!" chants. It didn't work -- or, at least, it didn't work nearly as well as Ohtani himself planting the seed earlier.

In Ohtani's first recruitment cycle in 2017, Seattle was a finalist and presumed favorite before he chose to blaze his own non-Ichiro path in Anaheim.

Back then, though, he didn't know the American sporting landscape quite so well, nor did he know his own comforts. He also didn't know Boston Red Sox superstar Mookie Betts, now conveniently a Dodger. We'll have to track his BP sessions for the remainder of the year to be completely sure, but as of Tuesday in Seattle, it sounds like a calm and collected Ohtani learned how to control the All-Star Game instead of letting it control him.