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Shohei Ohtani: Fan frenzy as baseball star debuts for LA Dodgers

Shohei Ohtani: Fan frenzy as baseball star debuts for LA Dodgers

Baseball sensation Shohei Ohtani will make his regular season debut with the LA Dodgers in Seoul on Wednesday, sending his fans into a frenzy.

Game tickets and Ohtani merchandise have sold out since the Japanese sports hero landed in South Korea last week.

Ohtani received a rousing welcome although Japan is South Korea's long-time sports rival.

The LA Dodgers-San Diego Padres match is the MLB's first season opener in South Korea.

Ohtani, 29, arrived to much fanfare in Seoul last Friday with his new wife, former professional basketball player Mamiko Tanaka. It was the first time that he revealed his wife's identity after announcing their marriage in February.

Seoul resident Mina Kim said she saw Ohtani play in two exhibition games before Wednesday and was surprised to see the crowd wearing Ohtani jerseys while screaming his name.

"And when Ohtani came out, everyone took their cameras out. I just heard Ohtani, Ohtani the whole game pretty much," said the 27-year-old, who has been following the Japanese star since his professional debut in 2018.

Widely regarded as one of the best to have ever played the game, Ohtani was the MLB's most coveted target during off-season. Unlike most players who specialise in batting or pitching, Ohtani is equally skilled at both, drawing comparisons with American baseball legend Babe Ruth.

He joined the LA Dodgers last December after signing a record-breaking $700m (£552m) contract for 10 years - the largest ever in MLB history. This made him one of the world's highest-earning athletes.

The announcement of his marriage in February sparked a weeks-long guessing game about the identity of his bride.

Some fans say Ohtani has eclipsed even South Korea's own MLB export, Ha-Seong Kim of the San Diego Padres.

"I'm sorry. I totally respect Ha-Seong Kim as well, he's a phenomenal player too, but I think Otani just as a two-way player and the records he's broken, the awards he's received - I think there's a general understanding for anyone who follows baseball and in the world - he's such a unicorn," said Ms Kim, the fan from Seoul.

The two-game series will take place on Wednesday and Thursday, with both games starting at 19:00 local time (10:00 GMT).

It is part of the MLB's world tour which aims to expand its global fan base. Eight of the MLB's 30 teams are scheduled to play four series in different cities, including two London games between the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies in June.