Ohtani Canada celebrates baseball star on and off the field. Members of Canada’s largest Shohei Ohtani fan club, Ohtani Canada. Left to right: Jonathan Seki, Lise Hawkins, and club president and founder Dave Pollard.
TORONTO — In 2017, the Toronto Blue Jays were trying to scout a promising young Japanese player from the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. The player was then 24-year-old Shohei Ohtani, and retired teacher Dave Pollard wanted to help. Learning that the Los Angeles Angels were also looking to scoop Ohtani, Pollard and a friend founded a Shohei Ohtani fan club to rally support for Ohtani in Toronto.
While Ohtani ended up signing with the Angels, Pollard was drawn not only to Ohtani’s incredible skill as a player but also to his humble attitude and stellar sportsmanship both on and off the field. As well, Pollard was already having too much fun with the fan club to let it go.
Since then, Ohtani Canada has grown to be the largest Shohei Ohtani fan club in Canada, with almost 1,500 followers. Ohtani Canada is the most interviewed Ohtani fan club, not only in Canada, but also in Japan, often appearing in Japanese media coverage. While the club has grown in numbers, it has also formed a sense of community and camaraderie among a group of people who share one major-league connection, a deep admiration for Shohei Ohtani.
“We’ve hung on to the club, and it’s just meant so much. It’s just been a hobby for me. Some people have golf, me, I do this awesome fan club, and it opened up wonderful opportunities,” Pollard tells Nikkei Voice in an interview.
One of those opportunities includes an invitation to teach inquiry-based learning and character education using Ohtani as a role model at Iwate University in Japan this September. Since the university is not far from Ohtani’s hometown of Oshu, he hopes he will be able to visit the places where Ohtani’s baseball career began.
Since signing with the Los Angeles Angels in December 2017, Ohtani has made his mark on Major League Baseball, breaking records and picking up almost every award and accolade possible. In Japan, Ohtani is called Nitoryu or a two-sword samurai because of his ability to both hit and pitch, regularly playing as both a pitcher and designated hitter.
But along with his triumphs on the field, Ohtani is known for his sportsmanship, incredible work ethic, and humble attitude. Ohtani Canada’s mission is to highlight and celebrate that side of Ohtani, says Pollard.
“[Ohtani Canada] celebrates the greatest baseball player of all time, with a focus on his character and talent,” says Pollard.
“He’s a wonderful role model, and he’s aware of it. He knows the fans are watching everything he does. He knows what he does and says on the field impacts the younger people watching him.”
Ohtani’s sportsmanship and humility come through in his actions on the field, says club member Jonathan Seki. If Ohtani hits a foul ball, he checks that the ball hasn’t hit or hurt anyone before he goes back into the batter’s box. He picks up and returns other players’ bats and always cheers on his teammates, giving them high fives and congratulating them as they return to the dugout, says Seki.
“These are just a couple of examples that show his character and who he is. He picks up trash off the ground—it doesn’t matter whose stadium it is—he just picks it up,” says Seki.
Seki is a recent member of Ohtani Canada and helps with communications and Japanese translations on the site since the fan club has built a large following in Japan. Seki’s cousin is Pollard’s barber (and former student), and when the two met at his grandfather’s house, they started talking about Ohtani and haven’t stopped since.
“I’ve always been a Shohei fan before his arrival to North America. I watched him when he was on the Ham Fighters and was really excited for him to come to North America,” says Seki.
“[It’s exciting] to be part of a group that supports him and shows who he is as a person, more than just a player because obviously, he has an amazing talent on both sides of the ball.”
Too often in professional sports, fans will overlook an athlete’s poor sportsmanship, believing their skill and talent excuse their behaviour. For young fans to see Ohtani cleaning up his stadium, caring for his fans, or cheering and supporting his teammates, is extremely valuable, says Lise Hawkins, another recent Ohtani Canada member.
“These are seemingly little things, but they are significant things to pick up on. There are a lot of bad manners generally allowed in sports, nasty habits, or unkind words. They are not qualities you would want to foster in young people,” says Hawkins.
“Children always want to emulate those athletes they like, and if they see that athlete doing the right thing, it sets in motion that thought process for them.”
A retired teacher with over 50 years of experience, Pollard now teaches character education workshops to students, using Ohtani as a role model to talk about characteristics like humility, responsibility, empathy, and teamwork.
Hawkins is an educator and faculty advisor in Tyndale University’s teacher education program, alongside Pollard. Qualities like empathy and responsibility are now a part of the Ontario curriculum and taught to students, says Hawkins. For young fans who idolize their sports heroes, seeing Ohtani embody these characteristics is very impactful for them, says Hawkins.
Hawkins recently joined the club last fall. Despite being a loyal Jays fan, Hawkins has been in awe of Ohtani, who is the same age as her son, and what he has achieved so far in his career. You don’t have to be a fan of the Angels, or give up your loyalty to the Jays to join the fan club, says Hawkins.
“I’m a big fan of my local team. The guys on the Jays are so compelling and exciting right now; the youthfulness, joy, and love that they have, we haven’t seen anything like that for a long time. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t look to the force of [Shohei] and what he’s doing,” says Hawkins.
“It’s historic and it’s exciting, so I think you can look [Ohtani] and be so respectful and in awe of him, and be keen to follow him and see where this all leads in his young life, as well as supporting your local team.”
After launching the club in 2018, Pollard built the fan club on Instagram with over 10,000 followers. But last year, the account was hacked, and Instagram shut it down to investigate. Since then, Pollard has relaunched the club and already built its following up to nearly 1,500 followers on Instagram. But more than just numbers, the relaunched club has fostered a sense of community among its members.
During games, Pollard wears the fan club t-shirt so other members can find him in the crowds. Every day Pollard picks up a coffee from Starbucks and answers comments and messages posted on the club’s new Instagram page.
“I sit in the car for an hour and message all these followers back. Sometimes it takes over an hour, sometimes an hour and a half, and I relate to them personally because they relate to Shohei,” says Pollard.
“I see immediate connections because we have something in common, a shared interest in and understanding of what it is to be not only a great athlete but a fine human being. And these are wonderful qualities to emulate. He’s such a role model.”
Pollard, Hawkins, and Seki will be cheering for Ohtani when the Angels face off against the Jays in Toronto on Aug. 26 and 27.
Giveaway! Dave Pollard and Ohtani Canada are offering fan club t-shirts to five Nikkei Voice readers. For your chance to win a t-shirt, follow @OhtaniCanada on Instagram at www.instagram.com/ohtanicanada.
After you follow the account, email firstname.lastname@example.org with your Instagram username. If you don’t have Instagram, ask a friend or family member to follow, and let us know their username!
And to learn more about Ohtani Canada, visit www.shoheiohtani.ca.