Life in the Minors
Watching the Waipio Little League team conjures up memories of playing for the Wahiawa Blue Jays
For sports fans in America, it is a wonderful time of year.
The major league pennant races are heating up, and the Michael Phelps show is in full swing in Beijing.
For all of us with the Evansville Otters, the big news is that our 96-game Frontier League season is quickly moving down the home stretch. Tonight, we won our third straight game, 4-1 over the Southern Illinois Miners, thanks to strong pitching by our right-handed starter Mike Damchuk and a three-run first inning.
But lying on my bed watching TV at the Econo Lodge here in Marion, Ill., at 3 a.m., I am not watching the SportsCenter loop on ESPN2, and I am not catching up on the Olympics. No, instead, I am revisiting many memories of my childhood, as I am glued to ESPN watching Timo Donahue's Waipio squad take on Shelton, Conn., in the opening game at the Little League World Series.
Hard-throwing Caleb Duhay is on the mound for Hawaii right now, as his team leads 2-1 in the fifth inning of the ESPN late night rebroadcast. Caleb is absolutely bringing it at 72 mph and offsetting his fastball with a 52-mph breaking ball. That's just not fair.
I have played against Timo in various leagues over the past decade or so on Oahu, and it is neat to see him on national television doing Hawaii proud. It has also been fun to see Timo's son, Christian, play shortstop for the Waipio team. Like his dad, Christian seems to be a smooth-fielding, left-handed hitting middle infielder who can swing it.
Although the Wahiawa Little League All-Star teams I played on as a kid never came anywhere near earning a trip to Williamsport, Pa., playing baseball was an absolute joy. I started playing Little League when I was 8 years old, after a man from the Okinawan club we belonged to called looking for kids to play for his team.
It was the best thing that ever happened to me. Baseball has become a big part of my life. It gave me direction as a kid, paid for my college education and has become my profession.
I spent that first season in the coach pitch division for the Wahiawa Blue Jays, playing all of our games at the upper field at Kaala Elementary School, before quickly advancing to the majors division, which played all of its games at Whitmore Park.
The Blue Jays were based at Poamoho Camp outside of Wahiawa, where the employees of Del Monte lived, so our teams were a mixed plate of kids from different backgrounds. On a lot of days, we would play chase master in the pineapple fields until our coaches were ready to start practice. When it rained, we'd have sliding practice, which pretty much meant 2 hours of sprinting and sliding all over the field until it was time to go home.
Back then, we played for the same team from the coach pitch level all the way up, so my Blue Jays teammates were with me from elementary school all the way through high school.
I think I played five years or so there as the Blue Jays shortstop, and that's where most of my Little League memories took place, playing for Tatsuo Ige. Mr. Ige and our other coaches -- Felix Abear, Lawrence Kawamoto, Mr. Wada, Rusty Cameros, Rowdy Ige and my Uncle Stanley Nakasone -- taught me to love the game, and the importance of fundamentals, the two very ideals that have kept me in the game for all of these years.
Looking back to my humble beginnings in baseball, it seems like it was an eternity ago that I would go to sleep in my Blue Jays uniform the night before games so I could wake up ready to go in the morning. I remember coming home from practice during the summers, and going straight from the car to our front yard to practice my pitching a little more against our tile wall.
I logged a lot of innings of imaginary baseball against that wall, pitching against the lineups I saw in box scores in the newspaper. I would bring out the sports page and open it up to the MLB section, and pick a team to pitch to. Man, that Rickey Henderson was a tough out.
As you can imagine, that portion of our wall is no longer standing. If nothing else, pitching against the wall gave me good command. I was not allowed to pitch if our neighbor's car was parked in their garage, since the 3-foot-high wall was the only barrier separating our yard and our neighbor's station wagon. Of course, I would practice pitching regardless, and there were a few chuck-and-duck moments along the way, as I often sprinted into the garage to hide each time one of my two-strike breaking balls bounced over the wall and onto the hood of that station wagon.
The absolute highlight of each summer was the Blue Jays' annual camping trip to Ewa Beach. We would camp out a week at a time, all the boys and our parents as well. To this day, I don't know how the heck the parents were able to keep all of us in order -- dozens of 10- to 12-year-olds in top summer form, wreckless and tireless.
When I think of my childhood, I think of the many great memories I had from playing baseball.
I'm sure the boys with the Waipio All-Stars will have many great memories from their historic trip to the World Series this summer. But for me, I will always remember my teammates and coaches most, and the fun we all had together.