Ben Verlander, enthusiastic baseball pundit and younger brother of Justin, is certainly not the most offensive guy slinging takes about sports on the internet today. He does, however, possess an unrivaled ability to say something that will cause me to screw up my face in bemusement, as if I am watching an overstimulated dog bark at its own reflection.
Anyway, USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale wrote a profile(?) of Verlander, which reads like it came together accidentally in place of what was supposed to be an article about Shohei Ohtani. The peg for the story is that Verlander, a guy who has positioned himself as a professional Ohtani appreciator simply by posting a lot of all-caps tweets about him, recently traveled to Japan to film a television special called Searching for Shohei: An Interview Special. So it is kind of weird that the article begins like this:
OK, so now Ben Verlander knows what it feels like to have been the Beatles, Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin rolled into one walking along the streets of Japan.USA Today
What follows that lede is, I must stress, one of the weirder stories I have ever read. Some of this is surely down to the fact that Bob Nightengale has a relationship with words that is similar to the one he has with photography, but it is also because Verlander says some really weird shit, and comes off like a guy who seems to have lost sight of what his trip to Japan was supposed to be about in the first place. First, the weird stuff:
“People in Japan aren’t the most outspoken,” Verlander said. “They don’t speak up, don’t speak boldly, so I am their voice on the other side of the world. How can you not be affected by that?”USA Today
I’m not even sure what the implication of that quote is supposed to be. Baseball fans in Japan need Ben Verlander to be their voice in America so that he can … do what exactly? This guy is somehow representing the interests of an entire country’s baseball fans every time he sends an orgasmic tweet after Ohtani hits an opposite-field home run?
Verlander then goes on to tell Nightengale about how he was mobbed as a celebrity by fans in Japan—are we sure they didn’t mistake him for his brother?—which then leads into some frankly depressing revelations about Verlander’s own self-image and where it fits into his ceaseless performance of enthusiasm (emphasis mine):
“I didn’t know what was going to happen, I didn’t know what we’d get,” Verlander told USA TODAY Sports, “but it was the most powerful story what he means to everyone in Japan, and at the same time, what I mean.
“Without sounding too mushy and sentimental, everybody wants to have a purpose. I thought my purpose was to play baseball, and play it as long as I can. But I learned that even though my baseball career is over, I still matter.USA Today
Jeez, man. Jeez!
I’m unsure if Bob and Ben can appreciate the irony on display here, but it’s useful for the rest of us. Perhaps an article that is ostensibly about how much Shohei Ohtani means to baseball fans in Japan seamlessly becoming an article about what Ben Verlander thinks he means to baseball offers some insight into what this particular type of guy is really after. His studious attachment to the most famous and talented baseball player in the world is certainly meant to generate a lot of attention, but maybe not for Shohei Ohtani.