As Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins trotted down the purple carpet with his girlfriend, Erika Hardy, before the Major League Baseball All-Star game in Denver earlier this month, they were styling in matching sunglasses with cloud-shaped lenses. The glasses symbolized the Akatsuki, a group of ninjas from one of his favorite television shows, “Naruto.”
Mullins has loved watching anime — a style of Japanese film and television animation — since he was a kid, but “Naruto” was the show that allowed him to appreciate the value of being yourself and overcoming any setbacks that came his way. Those values helped Mullins navigate his journey of being sent down to the minor leagues in 2019 to becoming an All-Star this season.
“You know growing up, [Naruto] was something as a kid that I could look up to,” Mullins, 26, said. “Someone that never gave up.”
Mullins would stay up on weekends, watching Cartoon Network’s Toonami, where he fell in love with “Naruto.” The show, which spanned over 700 episodes and is one of the most popular in the history of the genre, told the story of the main character Naruto Uzumaki, a young ninja who sought recognition from his peers and dreamed of becoming Hokage, the leader of his village.
Mullins remembers watching other popular shows like “Dragon Ball Z” and “Pokemon.” “Naruto,” however, was a show he and his younger brother Kyle would watch religiously until it ended in 2014.
“The story kind of captivated me,” Mullins said. “[Naruto], who we know basically grew up with absolutely nothing but he had this power and it was because of the power that he had sealed inside, people were scared of him and stayed away from him. But you know, that didn’t really change his attitude toward what he wanted to be in the future.”
In the show, Naruto grew up alone as an orphan and was the worst student in his ninja academy. He had to work hard to gain respect from his peers before realizing his dream of becoming Hokage.
Mullins faced his own fair share of setbacks during his baseball career. In 2019, he opened the season as the Orioles’ starting center fielder, taking over the position from fan favorite Adam Jones, before being demoted to the minor leagues in April. Two years later, Mullins became an All-Star and one of the top center fielders in the majors.
“In terms of his mindset, I’m going to continue to try to be better every single day regardless of the setbacks that I might have,” Mullins said. “I kind of learned those lessons not only through [Naruto], but through my parents as well.”
Similar to Mullins, Kyle said “Naruto” had a major impact on his life growing up. “I think a large part of my personality was formed from watching Naruto and anime in general,” Kyle said.
Mullins is fully immersed into the anime world. During certain days off when he is not reading, watching shows like “Game of Thrones” or playing “Call of Duty,” Mullins is watching episodes of “Attack on Titan” and “My Hero Academia.”
“There’s so much out there now it feels like I’m bouncing around constantly,” Mullins said. “I’ve just gotten into ‘Jujutsu Kaisen’ that I’ve heard a lot about. I just bounced around back and forth just to see what’s going on.”
Mullins mentioned Kyle has been trying to get him into “One Piece,” which has close to 1,000 episodes, but said “It’s too slow for me.”
Mullins recalls going through a stretch where he would go on YouTube and watch RDCWorld1, the popular YouTube channel that’s known for anime parodies as well as the LeBron James locker room skits that trend on social media.
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“They’re hilarious,” Mullins said. “I’m glad for all the success they’ve had. It’s fun keeping up with what they have in terms of the mindset of certain anime characters. Just kind of their twist on it.”
For the ones trying to dabble into the anime world, Mullins recommends “Jujutsu Kaisen,” “Demon Slayer” and “My Hero Academia.” Kyle will be quick to tell you there’s a show for everyone.
“I think that a lot of people like to classify anime as just one overall broad subject matter,” Kyle said. “I think anybody that is really trying to get into anime needs to give it a chance.”
It might be the right time. With the Summer Olympics being held in Tokyo, interest in anime and manga — Japanese comics and graphic novels — is expected to skyrocket in the U.S., with nine anime characters (including Naruto) serving as ambassadors for the Games.
It was only right for Mullins to put his anime fandom on full display during one of baseball’s biggest stages. Erika was able to find someone in London to make the glasses for her and Mullins just in time for the All-Star Game — which Mullins started in center field for the American League.
“I thought they were dope,” Kyle said. “He did not tell me that he was going to be wearing those. I wish that he had told me, and maybe I would have looked into getting some myself.”
Mullins isn’t afraid to express his love for anime. As stories like “Naruto” inspired Mullins as a child, he is writing his own influential story on the field.