STAR-BULLETIN FILE/ 2006
Lenn Sakata worked with pitcher, Kea Kometani at a camp last year. Kometani is in Double-A in the Rangers system now. CLICK FOR LARGE
Sakata a Giant in San Jose
Lenn Sakata is satisfied with helping others advance
STORY SUMMARY »
SAN JOSE, Calif. » Lenn Sakata knows the way from San Jose ... to the big leagues.
The San Francisco Giants are just an hour up the bay from the San Jose Giants. And that is the ultimate goal for the single-A players who call Municipal Stadium home.
Sakata, the former Kalani High School star, can help them get there -- maybe even bypassing a stop at Double-A Connecticut or Triple-A Fresno. He played 11 Major League seasons, with the Milwaukee Brewers, Baltimore Orioles, Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees, surviving by doing all the little things right.
The San Jose Giants are atop the California League standings despite a lack of top-notch prospects. They play exciting and winning baseball based on pitching, defense and clutch hitting.
"The ballclub is basically a team of overachievers, guys who work hard," Sakata said.
Garrett Nago -- a former Pearl City HIgh School standout who had a long minor league career and nearly made it to the majors -- is in his second season as Sakata's hitting coach.
FULL STORY »
SAN JOSE, Calif. » With Cal Ripken entering the Hall of Fame, bar bets were won and lost nationwide this week depending on if you could remember the name Lenn Sakata.
Of course, Sakata means much more to baseball fans in Hawaii than the fact that he was the shortstop for the Orioles before Ripken began his record ironman streak.
» The older local folks know Sakata was the star of one of the greatest high school baseball teams in state history, when Kalani took the 1970 championship.
» Those 30-and-over might remember him as a member of the 1983 World Series champion Orioles -- and that the wiry infielder played catcher and homered to win a key extra-inning game during the pennant drive.
» His name most recently made the news in Hawaii as a candidate to become the University of Hawaii baseball coach.
That was six years ago.
WHERE HAVE you gone Lenn Sakata?
He's right where he's been the last six summers, guiding the San Jose Giants to another winning season. The high Single A club has been one of pro baseball's most consistent winners, and Sakata, 52, has taken the Giants to the playoffs every year.
They are 61-46 and leading the California League's Northern Division by 2 1/2 games after last night's 7-2 victory over Lake Elsinore. It was the Giants' sixth win in seven games.
Earlier this season, Sakata set the league record for wins. Conventional wisdom would dictate it's the kind of record you don't want, because you might have hoped to have moved up to a higher level of competition.
Sakata said he doesn't look at it that way. For the most part, he is happy where he is.
"Longevity is what it takes. I've been fortunate enough to have good players who work hard," he said before a game last week. "I think all minor league baseball jobs are lateral moves. There's no stigma being a one-A coach as opposed to Triple-A because the game has changed. There's no natural progression. People get major league jobs with no coaching experience, straight from the broadcast booth.
"I don't look at this as a career deprecating thing for me. It's one of those situations where this is where I can have the best impact. The players are eager and more impressionable. I feel fulfilled at this level, although maybe yes, I've been at this level much too long."
There are certainly worse gigs. The San Jose Giants draw a steady 3,000 or so fans, even on weeknights. Municipal Stadium is one of those classic old ballparks, built in 1932. It's been kept up well and modern conveniences have been added without affecting the integrity of the old-school vibe. Promotions are fun without distracting too much from the game.
"I like the area, I like the organization," Sakata said. "The front-office here is extremely good to me. This is a good league with high-level talent year-after-year. The good players in this league play in the majors within one or two years. You're seeing this level becoming much more of an impact level than ever before."
Sakata mentions San Francisco Giants rookie starting pitcher Tim Lincecum as an example.
"I would never say 'can't miss.' The only guy I've had here I thought was can't miss was a kid who was here last year, Lincecum. Overpowering stuff. Our shortstop, Brian Bocock, is one of the best I've seen defensively, period. The left fielder, Ben Copeland, plays extremely hard. Dynamic kind of player in the energy he provides. He could be maybe a Johnny Damon player, except he has more power. We have a very athletic, big third baseman (David Maroul) who has 18 homers, but trouble making contact. He's very interesting because of his power and his athleticism."
ANTOAN RICHARDSON is a speedy little outfielder from the Bahamas. He's about 5-7 and a buck-fifty, around the same size Sakata was when he played 11 big league seasons.
"It's good to see proof that a little guy can make it," Richardson said. "He talks about how when you're a little guy, you have to play big. It's good inspiration."
Sakata takes a low-key approach to his job. He doesn't think the players care that he played in the World Series.
"When I was their age and I looked at someone 30 years older, I couldn't imagine them playing," Sakata said. "The only thing they really care about now is if I can help them. They don't want to hear war stories. They just want to know if I can teach them this so they can get out of here. That's what I try to provide."
Richardson, for one, said he doesn't mind a history lesson now and then.
"It's interesting hearing his stories. I feel like he's a wise man," Richardson said. "He's been there and succeeded at that level. He's seen it all, or at least 99 percent of what's going to happen. He's a man of few words, but when he speaks you know you need to take that information in because anything he says can be beneficial."