Baseball pays back Tokunaga
The former UH player and scout is getting his first full-time job in the sport
The idea of playing professional baseball died long ago for Eric Tokunaga. But the former McKinley and Hawaii star shortstop never gave up on a full-time job in the sport.
After he made the all-tournament team at the 1980 College World Series (the CWS the Rainbows came within a game of winning) Tokunaga received no pro opportunities as a player.
"I had to accept the fact of the end of my so-called career, although I did play AJA until I was 40," Tokunaga said.
One learns a lot about Tokunaga when asking if making that CWS all-tourney team was the highlight of his career.
"No, it was beating Derek Tatsuno (of Aiea) for the OIA championship," said Tokunaga, who can't remember if he even reached base against Tatsuno, one of the greatest pitchers the islands have produced. "He mowed us down, but we won, 1-0."
After UH, Tokunaga became a youth and high school coach, and later a part-time scout for the Kansas City Royals. He also was general manager of the Honolulu Sharks in Hawaii Winter Baseball in 1993 and 1994.
Since he didn't always have a full-time baseball job, Tokunaga also worked in sales and as a cab driver.
Today, Tokunaga, who has lived in Hawaii all his life, was scheduled to arrive in Charlotte, N.C. It will be his base of operations as a scout for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Japan Professional Baseball. The bachelor will celebrate his 49th birthday Wednesday at a Comfort Inn in a town where he doesn't know anyone.
"What do I know about Charlotte? They've got the Panthers, the Bobcats and they've got good college basketball around there," Tokunaga said last night, as he waited for his plane at the airport. "I feel like a freshman going away to college."
Although Tokunaga worked for the Royals, he helped many young pro players from Hawaii regardless of their affiliations. He also put on the annual Sugar Mill Classic high school all-star game.
"He's one of the most dedicated scouts at being involved with the youth," said San Jose Giants manager Lenn Sakata, one of Tokunaga's best friends. "And he always goes the extra mile when it comes to scouting. He dedicated himself to nurturing not just the guys he's interested in, but all of them in the community. I'll miss him a lot, but this is a great opportunity for him. It was always just a matter of time before he got a full-time job."
Tokunaga, who credits Sakata for teaching him a lot about baseball, said his main responsibility will be scouting the International League for the Hawks. He said he will likely attend spring training in Japan and Florida.
The International League is made up of 13 Triple-A teams spread out through the Eastern United States and one in Canada (Ottawa).
Tokunaga is excited about the opportunity. But he said he will miss watching young players from Hawaii progress and working them out in the offseason.
"I think I'm most proud of Chad Santos," said Tokunaga, who signed the first baseman to the Royals out of Saint Louis School. Santos made his major league debut with the San Francisco Giants last summer after seven years in the minors. "He just wanted to be a pro baseball player more than anybody else I've known.
"Jerome (Williams) and Shane (Victorino) are close seconds," added Tokunaga. "Not just because of them, but because I got to know their families well."