The Deatles? The Sho-nas Brothers? Dodgers get a rock star arrival in Korea

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SEOUL, South Korea – Upon emerging from the 14-hour haze of their flight to Korea, the Los Angeles Dodgers stepped into a sea of flashbulbs at Incheon International Airport. The fans here camped out by the hundreds and did so for hours, rising to a stir for each of the baseball galácticos. They chanted Freddie Freeman’s name as if he were digging into the batter’s box at Dodger Stadium.

If the hordes of cameras and camped-out reporters in the parking lot this spring training were the appetizer, the Dodgers on Friday afternoon got their entree. The greeting was a slice of what they might expect during their season-long traveling tour.

A Korean fanbase roared for the franchise that debuted the first Korean-born big leaguer 30 years ago. And in a way, the franchise roared back, spending more than a billion dollars this winter on Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The flurry was a full-throated pitch to become the preeminent Major League franchise this side of the Pacific.

For weeks, manager Dave Roberts has likened the media crush awaiting the Dodgers in Korea to the arrival of the Beatles.

Now the “Deatles” — or the “Sho-nas Brothers” — have their first tour stop at the Gocheok Skydome in Seoul, whether they’re ready or not.

“I think we’re kinda starting to get used to it a little bit, but I don’t know if anybody can get used to this like this,” Freeman said at a press conference on Saturday, when he joined his fellow MVP teammates Ohtani and Mookie Betts at the podium. As Freeman spoke, each word felt cut off by the endless chorus of shutters clicking on cameras.

The questions the Dodgers are facing here are hardly new. They’re just brighter, and louder, and there are more of them. For Freeman, the explanation is simple: the Dodgers had a heck of a winter, and that means more attention and more scrutiny.

“It’s been a lot,” Betts said, before repeating himself, “It’s been a lot.

“But, it’s cool. It’s kind of what comes when you get somebody like this,” he continued, pointing to the man to his right, Ohtani.

Much of the hype, of course, is tied to the club’s newest, biggest star.

When Ohtani’s interpreter Ippei Mizuhara emerged from the dugout during the club’s workout on Saturday, a mob followed, in hopes that Ohtani would be in tow. It turned out that he was. Ohtani quickly worked on his secondary leads before retreating back to the clubhouse.

Ohtani, of course, had made news of his own this weekend. In an Instagram post ahead of the club’s 14-hour flight, he completed a hard launch that led headlines in Japan: his new wife is Mamiko Tanaka, a former Japanese professional basketball player. When his new spouse came up during Saturday’s press conference, Ohtani’s cheeks turned blush red. Next to him, Betts and Freeman giggled with glee.

“I gotta hear this one,” Freeman said, reaching for the translating earpiece sitting in front of him. “C’mon Sho, don’t be shy.”

For as much as Ohtani claimed that he still isn’t used to the attention that has followed him since he was a teen, it’s safe to say he has had practice. As Roberts rolled through the club’s arduous flight, he perked up at a milestone for his new designated hitter. Roberts himself had only logged four hours of sleep. Center fielder James Outman had managed seven. “Shohei,” Roberts said, “slept 11 hours.”

So now Ohtani has plenty of rest and plenty of practice. The Dodgers’ newest frontman said “attention’s always great,” though his new teammates are seeing something different here.

“First time experiencing this,” free agent signing Teoscar Hernández said. “I think it’s gonna be fun. We have to try to enjoy it the best we can.”

It’s all they can do, really. The expectations have never been higher. The Sho is in town, and the club’s new reality will be cemented here against the San Diego Padres on Thursday, when Ohtani plays in his first regular season game.

“I’m just really excited,” Ohtani said through Mizuhara. “I’m excited to be part of the team and prove to everyone that I’m actually a Dodger now.”

(Top photo of fans awaiting the Dodgers at Incheon International Airport: Han Myung-Gu / Getty Images)

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