Players with Hawaii ties take independent route
Editor's note: This is the third in a series of five stories on Hawaii's minor league players
EIGHT players with Hawaii connections toiled for teams in independent baseball leagues that operate outside of organized baseball and Mark Okano played in Mexico.
They play with the hope of attracting the attention of a major league team and getting a chance in organized baseball the way Pat Scalabrini did this year after an All-Star season in 2004 with Winnipeg in the independent Northern League.
Josh Green and Jaziel Mendoza decided a year away from baseball was enough.
The outfielders, who finished their collegiate careers with the Hawaii Rainbows in 2004, were signed after attending open tryout camps.
Green played for the Surprise (Ariz.) Fightin' Falcons in the first-year Golden Baseball League. Mendoza played in the Frontier League for the Ohio Valley Redcoats, a traveling team testing interest in several Ohio and Indiana cities in hopes of having a permanent home in 2006.
Green had to overcome leg injuries the first part of the season, missing 10 games at one point. When he returned to action, his average rose steadily.
He earned a player of the week honor and went into the last game of the season with a .302 average, but was 0-for-4 and settled for .299. The left-handed batter had four home runs and 40 runs batted in.
Mendoza started his pro career with a bang in the Redcoats' opener, going 4-for-4 with two home runs and five RBIs. The left-handed hitting outfielder settled into a steady groove all season and finished with a .288 batting average. He was second on the team with 15 home runs and 65 RBIs and led the Redcoats with eight stolen bases.
"Jaziel had a huge impact on our season. He played left and right, but mostly left," said Kaliko Oligo, who patrolled center field for the Redcoats.
Oligo (Waimea, Hawaii-Hilo), in his second season in the Frontier League, improved his batting average 38 points over his rookie season to .266.
"I was hitting the ball well, but had a slump in mid-July. We were a traveling team for 73 of our 96 games, so it was hard to get extra work. Batting practice was limited and nothing replaces swinging the bat," Oligo said. "I turned it around in August and I'm proud of my performance. My manager (Mark Mason) wants me back next year."
Oligo, who grew up in Kekaha, Kauai, lives in Colorado where he is a sales representative for a tile company.
"I think there are more opportunities on the mainland. I'm 24 and maybe it's time to move on. I don't want to be ocean locked," Oligo said. "The company gave me the flexibility to stay with them or going back to baseball, but the last time I checked not too many people are looking for a 5-6 Filipino."
Chris George was released by the San Francisco Giants in spring training. He resumed his career in June with the San Diego Surf Dawgs, winners of the Golden Baseball League championship.
The right-hander and former Rainbow, used mostly in short relief, picked up his only victory in the final regular-season game. He finished with a 1-4 record and 6.00 earned run average in 24 appearances.
Justin Hall (St. Anthony, Long Beach State) spent a third season with St. Paul of the Northern League. The second baseman, who hit .310 and .328 his first two seasons with the Saints, fell to .277 this year. He led the Saints with four triples.
The Saints, who withdrew from the league, granted Hall free agency Sept. 26.
Justin Wayne (Punahou, Stanford) signed with the Newark Bears of the Atlantic League in August.
Released by the Florida Marlins in spring training, the right-hander signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers and appeared in four games with the Las Vegas 51s in the Pacific Coast League before being released. Later, he signed with the Kansas City Royals, was assigned to Omaha in the PCL, but was released before seeing any action.
In 10 appearances for the Bears, Wayne pitched 18 innings, gave up six earned runs, walked 17, fanned nine, won one, lost two and had a 3.00 ERA. He held opponents to a .197 batting average.
Okano played a second season in center field with the Cananea Miners in Mexico's Northern Somona League.
"In the beginning I kind of struggled, but I worked hard and adjusted. I did real well in the second half," said Okano (Aiea, New Mexico).
Ironically, the Miners qualified for the playoffs, but the owner did not want to pay for the team to participate.
"He said we can't pay you guys and just shut us down," said Okano, who hopes to get a chance with a Mexican League team next year or play in the United States.
Right-hander Chad Giannetti and catcher Lance Rankin played part of the summer with independent teams.
Giannetti (Punahou, UH, New Mexico) was 0-1 with a 7.43 ERA in nine appearances with the Mid-Missouri Mavericks of the Frontier League before being released July 19.
He signed Aug. 27 with the Northern League's Calgary Vipers and pitched in one game.
Rankin (Kaiser, Northern Colorado) hit .196 in 46 at-bats with the Coastal Bend (Texas) Aviators of the Central League before being released July 5.