Life in the Minors
Hawaii is never far away when you are surrounded by local boys
Being so far from home for the four months of the minor league season has become pretty routine for me. As if an internal clock goes off in my body, the itch for spring training usually hits soon after the turn of the year, and my mind flips into baseball mode.
Once the big league spring training games begin to air on ESPN, I can hardly contain the urge to pick up my glove and go throw some long toss at the park to crank up for another season of baseball.
Being born and raised in Hawaii, the hardest part of heading off to spring training each year is leaving home. I'm sure leaving for the season is difficult for any ballplayer from any part of the country, but with the geographic isolation of Hawaii, my friends and family can't exactly jump in a car for a road trip to drive out for a weekend and watch our games. The same, of course goes for ballplayers from Latin America or Asia. One of my biggest regrets of my decade in professional baseball has been that my parents, and my brother and his family have never been able to see what I do for a living.
Thankfully, my fiancee, and my buddies, Darryl Arata, Rick Kuwahara and Ryan Arasato, have been able to make the flight over in past years, so they have an idea about what I do out here.
Fortunately this season, I have a bunch of other local boys out here with me on the Evansville Otters, to make home seem a little less far away. Ricky Bauer, a former pitching standout at Mid-Pacific and the University of Hawaii, is in the two-slot in our starting rotation and has been very steady for us, leading our club with a 4-2 record so far after three seasons in the San Francisco Giants organization.
Our middle infield is all Hawaii as well, with Ricky's former high school and college teammate, Isaac Omura, at second base and Baldwin High alum and former Kansas City Royals draftee Gered Mochizuki at shortstop. Ike has given us some thump in our lineup, leading our team in homers (five) while also banging out 10 doubles in his first year out of the Oakland A's minor league system. Gered has given us some speed at the leadoff spot, with a .328 batting average since we acquired him a couple of weeks into the season.
I am certainly proud of our Hawaii contingent, but I root for each of the 24 guys on our roster just as hard. With a clubhouse full of good guys, I get a lot of satisfaction when any of them come through with a big hit, or make the big pitch to get out of a potentially big inning, or make a diving catch to end a rally. There are a lot of good stories on this club, and I really hope that we can all do well.
Having Ricky, Isaac and Gered has been a very nice luxury off the field for me. I've known Ricky and Isaac for a couple of years now and got to watch them play a lot in college. I got a good reference on Gered from my friend and former Royals scout Eric Tokunaga before bringing him in, so I knew all three of them could play.
But being able to talk about home and the common acquaintances we know is soothing for me. Just sitting and talking story or seeing the guys throughout the day makes me feel a little closer to home.
Last night when we checked into the hotel here in O'Fallon, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis, Ricky was walking around the lobby with his headphones on singing John Cruz's "Island Style." A lot of guys were probably wondering what "lomi salmon with the ice" meant, but I knew.
Even though we're all from the same place, we have distinct personalities. Gered is a confident, tough country boy from Maui, with a bunch of tattoos and a Mohawk hair do. Our benches cleared a couple of weeks ago after Gered and all of his 5-foot-7 inch frame blew up our opponent's catcher to end the game on a play at the plate. That's Gered and that's the way he plays, all-out with no questions asked.
Ricky is a laid-back, always calm and relaxed guy with a sharp wit. There have been several games this season when things just weren't going our way on the field with Ricky on the mound. Errors, misplays, bad strike zones, but his calm demeanor has allowed him to win in adverse situations. He is the consummate local boy, always sporting the surf brands, shades on, hanging back out of the spotlight. But his personality does not do justice to his ability to pitch and his competitiveness.
Ike is an absolute cut-up, the king of quirky one-liners. Ike's sense of humor is a lot like his hitting -- it sneaks up on you. You look at him and he seems very quiet, unassuming and harmless, until he unleashes a bomb over the right-field wall. You have to keep an eye on him to catch a lot of his best comments.
We got off to a good start this season and have been in a little bit of a rough patch for the past couple of weeks, so I'm hoping we can get back on track soon. I'd love to win with Ricky, Gered and Isaac. I'd love to win with this team. In the meantime, I'll just enjoy feeling a lot closer to home than I've felt in years.