mlb

Ohtani and De La Cruz continue to change the game

Is there a way Shohei Ohtani and Elly De La Cruz could be on the same field more often or share the same clubhouse one day?

LOS ANGELES — A weekend to savor already has started at Dodger Stadium, where a pair of players who are changing the game get to share the same field.

The Dodgers have Shohei Ohtani, who continues to draw attention on a daily basis, even while his is not in his full two-way glory. He won’t pitch again until next season after he recovers from an elbow procedure.

Also getting fully stretched out at Chavez Ravine through Sunday is Cincinnati Reds star Elly De La Cruz, with the build of a football edge rusher, the agility of a basketball star and the talent to play baseball that has few equals.

There was a playoff atmosphere at Dodger Stadium on Thursday when 40,000 Shohei Ohtani bobbleheads were handed out to the paying customers. A crowd of 53,527 showed up. The remaining 13,000-plus, who went home without the shimmy-head likeness of baseball’s most expensive talent, were not left empty-handed.

Ohtani was held in check on an off night from the normally productive Dodgers offense, collecting a walk and a stolen base in three plate appearances. But De La Cruz put on a show that fans of any team could appreciate.

His four stolen bases were a career high for a game in his brief two-year career and his four hits tied a career high. He still has not played a full 162 career games. De La Cruz also scored three runs Thursday in a show-stealing effort that ended with a 7-2 Reds victory.

There was no rendition of Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.,” after the final out. That anthem is played only for victories. Instead, De La Cruz covered the tune in his postgame television interview.

“This is my city,” De La Cruz said afterward, making the refrain his own with a big grin while being interviewed on the Bally Sports Cincinnati broadcast.

No, De La Cruz, is not a Southern California export making waves elsewhere in baseball like Giancarlo Stanton of the New York Yankees, Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers or Nolan Arenado of the St. Louis Cardinals. He didn’t grow up in the area facing the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole, the Atlanta Braves Max Fried or the Cleveland Guardians’ Shane Bieber.

De La Cruz is from the Dominican Republic, but Los Angeles is in his blood.

“My first time in the U.S. was here in L.A.,” De La Cruz said. “And also I  played a lot of GTA when I was a kid and I liked the city.”

De La Cruz was referring to the video game “Grand Theft Auto.” It’s a different generation. Appreciation for a city can come from nontraditional sources. But his tie that binds seemed genuine and true.

“When I was a little kid, I used to say I was born in L.A.,” he said. “This is my city.”

It’s hard to argue.

In addition to his standout game Thursday, De La Cruz famously made his major league debut at Dodger Stadium last season and went 4 for 11 with a home run and two RBIs in his first three games.

And with Ohtani roaming the same field Thursday, De La Cruz was more than ready to make an impression.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts admitted that it’s hard not to admire De La Cruz, even when he is taking down your own team. Roberts said of the five-tool player: “You get caught up at times admiring the talent.”

Even before the series started, Reds manager David Bell was relishing a weekend full of stars in Hollywood. He was not talking about the movies.

“Having great players on the field, of course, that’s a lot of fun for everyone involved,” Bell said. “It’s obviously good for the game.

“We’re so focused on the team aspect of things (and) maybe I’m guilty of losing sight of that sometimes. But when I stop to think about it, it’s special having great talent and great players out on the field.”

The De La Cruz-led Reds and the Ohtani-led Dodgers will play each other seven times this season. And all of the meetings come in a span of 11 days. The Dodgers head to Cincinnati next week.

After that, another matchup could be ahead in the National League playoffs.

So is there a way Ohtani and De La Cruz could be on the same field more often? Is there a way to dream where both of them share the same clubhouse? That is expected to take place in July for the All-Star Game at Arlington, Texas.

And further down the road, what are the odds for a partnership? Could it happen that the player who is so adored in L.A. and another one who loves the city so much eventually become neighbors? Maybe in a community that overlooks the ocean?

The Reds have not locked down De La Cruz to a long-term contract that takes him through his club-control and arbitration seasons. That means that under his club-control terms, De La Cruz is making “just” $742,500 this season. It’s a windfall for many but a mere pittance compared to others in the game, many who don’t measure up to his abilities.

Because De La Cruz was brought up after the 2023 season began, he won’t hit free agency until the winter before the 2030 season.

Ohtani, Mookie Betts, Will Smith and Yoshinobu Yamamoto still will be under contract for the Dodgers then so payroll will be high. But Ohtani’s contract is heavily deferred, giving the Dodgers some spending wiggle room. And would they be willing to use that financial flexibility on … say … De La Cruz?

There remains a long way to go before the next decade so anything is possible. Until then, De La Cruz’s words will ring loud:

“This is my city.”