Life in the Minors
Brendan Sagara

Sunday, July 17, 2005

It takes a special person
to take a pitching coach
out of the game

After a 17-hour bus ride, and a 12-hour trip just last week, I truly thought the worst of my summer travel was behind me.

But yet, after flying with the Gary SouthShore RailCats to Edmonton, Canada, just three days ago, I find myself in the midst of a 14-hour travel day that is not a part of the Northern League schedule.

While the rest of the RailCats are getting ready to play the Edmonton Cracker Cats in the final of a three-game series, followed by a bus trip to Calgary shortly after the game, I am flying in the opposite direction.

It was bad enough that we dropped our second straight game in Edmonton last night. The first game of the series was strange enough. First off, there was a rain delay called just before the scheduled 7:05 p.m. start time. I do mean JUST before, as the powers that be called for the tarps after both the United States and Canadian anthems had been performed.

And then, with our starter, Willie Glen, carrying a no-hitter into the bottom of the fifth with a 6-0 lead, the umpires pulled us off of the field again, because they saw rain coming in the distance.

Long story short, after the 75-minute second delay, Willie came out and gave up four quick runs in the fifth, and we ended up falling in 10 innings.

Last night, we were deadlocked at 2-2 going into the bottom of the eighth. But after two quick outs to open the home half of the inning, we saw the baseball gods take one away, as three consecutive bloopers fell just over the infield to give Edmonton the lead.

So with two days of frustration already eating at me, I had to rush back to the hotel last night and try to pack, eat and fall asleep for a dreaded 3:45 a.m. wake-up call.

With a scheduled 6:40 a.m. departure from Edmonton International Airport, I had to call the hotel concierge to make sure a cab was waiting for me outside the hotel at the bright and early hour of 4:30 in the morning. Well, I guess you could say it was early, but definitely not bright, as the sun had not yet reared its head.

When the wake-up call and my cell phone alarm chimed at a quarter to four, I was not a very happy camper, as you can guess. Anyone who knows me and my sleep pattern realizes that I was probably better off trying to stay up all night, but I wanted to catch some sleep before such a long travel day.

A little grumpy, really tired, and somewhat dazed, I caught my taxi, caught my plane and began my journey.

If the circumstances had been any different, I would not have been very pleased with having to drag my butt onto a plane so early. But my reason for deviating from the team's travel plans is about as good a reason as I can think of.

I am flying home to Oahu to be the best man in my friend Ryan Arasato's wedding.

Trying to think of a way to start a best man's speech that would entertain and give wedding goers an idea of just what kind of guy Ryan is, gave me a few problems.

After all, in a decade of friendship, we had experienced a lot together. How am I supposed to begin? More importantly, how am I supposed to limit it to just 5 minutes?

During my senior season as a pitcher for Joey Estrella at UH-Hilo, I met Ryan when he was just a wide-eyed freshman walk-on from Kalani High School. Judging by my first impression of Ryan, I should be surprised that we have grown to become the best of friends. Family, even.

After all, I was the gray beard, a fifth-year senior, and he was just one of about a dozen walk-ons auditioning during the fall. But even then, he was no normal guy. My first recollection of Ryan is of a skinny 18-year old with a hairdo I could only refer to as a "Pepe Le Pew.". He had the sides of his skull shaved, and a long mane of hair, dyed blonde, streaking across the middle of his head.

I remember asking coach Estrella, "What's with this guy?"

But when fall baseball started, he was all over the place; throwing his body everywhere, diving for hot shots up the middle at shortstop, and making over-the-shoulder running catches in center field. He was unreal. By the time opening day rolled around, he was our starting designated hitter, batting second in the order.

To be honest, during my senior season, I still really didn't get to know Ryan. I was busy hanging out with all the older guys I had played with for the past four years, and the freshmen always hang out by themselves.

During my last year of school, Ryan and I ended up living in the same apartment complex on campus, and that's when we really got close. I taught him how to cook, and appreciate wine and fine cigars, and he tried to instill in me an appreciation for New Kids on the Block, the Backstreet Boys and such.

From that point on, we did just about everything together. There was the day we decided to catch a cab to the Cress movie theaters in Hilo and had the bright idea to walk back home. Thankfully, we picked up a couple of cigars from our favorite shop, Fat Cats, because it took us about 2 hours to walk back up the hill to campus.

Of course, we laughed the whole way back.

We played video games a lot, too. Admittedly, the worst video gamer of all athletes, I lost a lot, and threw a few PlayStation controllers in between. Ryan just always laughed, making it hard for me to stay frustrated.

After that year, Ryan had decided he had enough of the Hilo rain, and transferred to play at Hawaii Pacific, and then made the academic jumps to Kapiolani Community College, and the University of Hawaii, and then Oregon.

Speaking of rainy cities, Ryan really seemed to find a lot of his life's answers up there in Oregon. On a trip I took up there to see him, he informed me that umpiring had become his new calling. I thought he was nuts. A ballplayer becoming an umpire is a lot like a heavyweight champ becoming a sparring partner. Why would he want to get abused like that?

But he did it, and along the way became one of the top young umpires in the country, graduating among the top students in umpire school. Soon he was whisked away to umpire in the minor leagues, becoming the first Hawaii resident in recent memory to do so.

In Oregon, Ryan also developed a love for the "sweet science," and thus began his affair with boxing, another interest we shared during our many, many hours training at Palolo boxing gym.

But the biggest passion he discovered, of course, was his wife-to-be, Julie Tamura. The love of his life came from a family which resided about 30 seconds from the house he rented along with a bunch of our teammates in Waiakea Uka, in Hilo.

They met at a party in Oregon, she was attending Oregon State at the time, and things haven't been the same since. For the better, of course.

When he told me two years ago that he knew she was the one for him, I really wasn't surprised. I pretty much figured that out already. I didn't think he'd take another two years to go through with it, though.

With a decade of friendship and years of eating at each other's house, and crashing on each other's floors, and playing ball, and boxing and smoking cigars, and, of course, laughing together, Ryan and I have seen each other grow quite a bit.

Sure I dreaded the early wake-up call this morning. And I really didn't need the extra travel during the season. But despite the hour-and-a-half of sleep, and all of the challenges of international travel, it was definitely worth it all. I really can't think of a better reason to go through it.

I guess the best way to write a speech would be to talk about some of our adventures, and kind of move into how he met Julie and how they got to this point. I guess I should mention how Ryan is probably the best person, the best human being, I've ever known, and how lucky Julie is to have him and vice versa.

Brendan Sagara, a former University of Hawaii-Hilo pitcher, is in his first season as pitching coach for the Gary Southshore Railcats.

E-mail to Sports Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- http://archives.starbulletin.com