ANAHEIM — Anthony Bass’ locker inside the visiting clubhouse at Angel Stadium had everything you’d expect — his uniforms, his shoes and his glove. There was also a gold and black Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters jersey with “Ohtani” and “11” on the back, the same one worn when the Angels’ two-way superstar and Bass were teammates in Nippon Professional Baseball in 2016.
Bass had the jersey delivered to him from overseas specifically to surprise Shohei Ohtani, the 2021 American League MVP, prior to Tuesday afternoon’s game and have him sign it. The autograph included an inscription: “To Anthony, 2016 Japan Champion.”
“I’m sure he doesn’t see this jersey very often,” the Miami Marlins reliever said as he was holding it up for reporters. “I’m sure it brings back good memories for him.”
Bass witnessed the abilities Ohtani is now exhibiting in the Majors. In winning the Pacific League MVP at just 22 years old, Ohtani had a career-low 1.86 ERA with 174 strikeouts against 45 walks over 140 innings.
There was an instance in which Ohtani almost needed Bass’ relief to help him close out a game.
“I remember he started the last game of the season against the Seibu Lions,” Bass said. “Their offense was pretty good; they could hit. I was warming up in the ninth in case he ran into trouble. He then struck out the side to end it.”
Of course, Bass also saw Ohtani’s hitting ability on full display. In 104 games and 382 plate appearances, Ohtani hit 22 homers, 18 doubles and drove in 67. He batted .322 with an on-base percentage of .416.
“I always call him a 10-tool player,” Bass said. “He does it all.”
The memories are special for Bass, too. That lone season in Japan would help revitalize his career. He appeared in 37 games with a 3.65 ERA with 71 strikeouts against 47 walks in 103 2/3 innings. Bass was also the winning pitcher in three of the Fighters’ four wins of the Japan Series, including the championship clincher. That was also when he proved he could handle the bat nearly as well as his multitalented teammate.
“Ohtani was on deck to [pinch-hit] for me,” Bass, now 34, remembers. “And at the last second, the manager then called him back and had me hit for myself. Second pitch, I hit a line drive up the middle. Ohtani’s reaction was, ‘I knew you could do it.’”