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Play ball! The 2024 Baseball season opens today, here's what to expect


It is Major League Baseball's opening day, which signals the start of a new season across the country for fans. The Texas Rangers are defending their World Series title for the first time. Now, the start of the season is usually a happy time of year, when renewed optimism is paired with hot dogs and beers. But off the field, the mystery surrounding the sport's brightest star and his ties to sports gambling are darkening that joy. For a preview of this year's baseball season, let's turn to Chelsea Janes, national baseball writer for The Washington Post. Welcome back.

CHELSEA JANES: Thank you for having me.

CHANG: All right. I want to start with the story everyone seems to be talking about here in LA. Also, my family in Taiwan is obsessed with the story. How does my home team, the LA Dodgers, focus on baseball right now with all the noise around Shohei Ohtani?

JANES: You know, even if Shohei Ohtani had not found himself ensconced in this gambling scandal, I think he would have been drawing attention, drawing a ton of cameras, reporters to Dodger Stadium this year.

CHANG: Yeah.

JANES: That's just his stardom. But this is going to be a particularly interesting situation to navigate because his interpreter was fired. He has accused his interpreter of theft, and the rest of his teammates, supposedly, were just as surprised as everyone else to hear about it. So it will be a lot of eyes on Ohtani, a lot of eyes on the Dodgers and a lot of people asking questions that have yet to be answered.

CHANG: Well, the MLB announced last Friday that it is launching an investigation into all of that. What is the timeline of that investigation? At least, what is your sense? And what is the process? Do we know?

JANES: They have a robust investigations department, from what I understand - one that rivals the reach and the ability of even some federal agencies. They'll be doing this investigation alongside some authorities. It's not totally clear which authorities will be investigating this. Everyone around this has yet to sort of indict Ohtani with any wrongdoing. Right now, the story is and continues to be that it was all his interpreter, and the interpreter stole from him to pay for gambling debt. So if that story holds, that investigation will probably not yield much about Ohtani, and I think that's what the Dodgers and MLB and everyone is sort of hoping for.

CHANG: OK. Well, putting that whole scandal aside, I just want to now turn to what we might be seeing on the field. What teams are you excited about watching this year?

JANES: The Dodgers are the easy answer there - not just because of Ohtani. But when they signed him, they already had two elite players, Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman. They also signed a former Japanese star named Yoshinobu Yamamoto and made him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history before he'd even thrown a pitch. His first pitches last week in Korea did not go well, so there's a lot to watch there. But other than that, it'll be everyone trying to chase them down. The Atlanta Braves are good. The defending champion Texas Rangers are very good. Closer to home for me, the Baltimore Orioles are a young team that really burst onto the scene last year. So there's going to be a lot of really interesting competition for those Dodgers. But I think the story of this year will be - can anyone chase them down, and if so, who will it be?

CHANG: And what about individual players? Like, who do you think will make an impact this season, besides Shohei Ohtani (laughter)?

JANES: Right. Yeah, I mean, you kind of have to say that all the time now since he is sort of the brightest star. Ronald Acuna Jr. is an outfielder for the Braves who put together an incredible season last year - an MVP season - stole a ton of bases, hit a ton of homers. He is someone to watch. The Toronto Blue Jays have Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who had a down year last year but has been one of the most powerful hitters in the sport over the last few years. They're a really good team, so if he kind of reemerges, that could change things. Juan Soto was the big star traded this offseason, and he'll be a Yankee for the first time. And that all comes with a lot of attention, too. If he's really good, that could change their fortunes dramatically. So those are just a smattering, but some of the big names, I think, will be coming up a lot this year.

CHANG: That is Chelsea Janes, national baseball writer for The Washington Post. Thank you so much, Chelsea.

JANES: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.