COURTESY OF CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE
Aiea graduate Jonathan Sakurai has switched between shortstop and second base throughout his college career.
Above it all
Jonathan Sakurai has kept his numbers up while playing on losing teams
JONATHAN Sakurai had accomplished his goals after two seasons with the Chicago State Cougars and was searching for a new school last summer to continue his baseball career.
Shopping himself around was nothing new for the Aiea graduate. A member of three Oahu Interscholastic League championship teams, Sakurai was not recruited out of high school.
"We had to do it ourselves. I was looking at Division II and III schools," said Sakurai, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound middle infielder who landed at Cal State Northridge last fall.
However, three years ago Sakurai received some input from a local organization that helps place students at mainland schools. That is when Chicago State entered the picture.
"It was a Division I school. Even though the team was not that great, I could play against some tough teams and get some experience for two years. And, the Cougars were coming to Hawaii," Sakurai said.
The Cougars were one of the teams in the 2004 First Hawaii Title Rainbow Tournament. That meant a free trip home in the middle of his second semester at Chicago State.
A shortstop for Na Alii, Sakurai started there for the Cougars but ended up moving to second base. He stayed at second and earned All-Mid-Continent Conference honors last year as a sophomore when he hit .321 and led the Cougars in at-bats, runs and stolen bases.
"I did exactly what I wanted to do. I got my stats up even though we weren't winning," Sakurai said.
Chicago State was 14-102 in his two seasons there. Losing and the Chicago weather began to wear on Sakurai.
"It was hard coming from Aiea where we always won. I love to win. Chicago was an eye-opener as far as being in a different culture and it was gloomy all day," he said.
Transferring became easy when the Cougar coaching staff was fired after the 2005 season. The next question was where to go and Sakurai knew he wanted his next school to be on the West Coast.
Sakurai played in the Hawaii Collegiate League last summer for the Paniolos that had three CSUN Matadors on the roster. Another connection developed when CSUN assistant coach Mark Kertenian served as coach of the Paddlers.
"I just let everyone know that I was looking for a school. I made friends with everyone. When I talked with Coach Kertenian he said that was good because they were looking for players," said Sakurai, who also considered Nevada until the Wolf Pack recruited another infielder.
"I didn't know anything about him other than looking up his stats," said Matadors head coach Steve Rousey.
"Coming into this season we had an opening at every position. We really struggled last year. What we wanted to do was double up, have competition at every position and hope the new guys we brought in would make us a better team or push the returning players to do better.
"Jonathan -- his nickname here is Jonny Tsunami -- made an impression right away. We pretty much knew we had something good. He has tons of energy, flies all around the field. He is one of those hustle guys, a hard-nose player who brings energy to the field."
Sakurai again started the season at shortstop but after eight games moved to second base. A right-handed hitter, he has started all 38 games and bats leadoff or in the eighth or ninth holes, depending on the opposing pitcher.
"Jonathan has torn up righties, but struggles against lefties," Rousey said.
An accomplished base stealer (63-for-78 at Chicago State), Sakurai's numbers (10-for-13) are down this year, but his success percentage (.769) remains high.
"He has the green light and can go when he wants to," Rousey said. "I think he is experiencing a little bit different level of competition. It's hard to steal bases on the West Coast because all the pitchers slide step. Teams in the Big West Conference and Pac-10 really work on controlling the running game."
The Matadors have equaled the number of wins they had in 2005. Sakurai credits the competition for starting positions.
"You have to earn your spot and I think it made our team better," said Sakurai, who had no difficulty moving from short to second.
"I was excited to be in the Big West with top teams like Fullerton and Long Beach. I was expecting the best of the best. It may not be the best but it is good, good," Sakurai said.
"What drives me is when we play a top team. I want to do good against those teams.
"It was a hard decision to leave a guaranteed spot (at Chicago State), but my family supported the decision even if I didn't play much. It is nice being closer to home and I have a lot of friends in the area."
Sakurai is a good contact hitter. He has walked 17 times and struck out 18 while hitting .288.
"Jonathan's strength is back up the middle and to the pull-side. He does a good job with the bunting and puts pressure on the defense by putting the ball in play," Rousey said.
"He is as good a second baseman as I've seen in D-I baseball. He does the routine stuff well consistently and has made multiple spectacular plays at second base.
"He leads by his actions, which is the best way to be."
Sakurai is majoring in psychology and is considering a career in education.
JONATHAN SAKURAI'S CAREER STATISTICS
Source: Chicago State and Cal State Northridge
|2006-Cal State Northridge