Waipahu's Keelen Obedoza, with back to camera, was greeted by teammates Tanner Tokunaga, left, and Kainoa Fong yesterday after hitting a two-run homer off South Dakota pitcher Tanner Simons during pool play at the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa.
Families willing to go to bat for Waipio team
Parents scramble after the Little Leaguers' regional win, but all say it is worth it
STORY SUMMARY »
Planning a trip from Honolulu to South Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series was no easy task for most of the family and friends of the Waipio All-Star baseball team.
Some did not make travel arrangements beyond San Bernardino, Calif., where Waipio won the tough West Region to be one of 16 teams to play in this 10-day tournament. Others believed the team had a chance to go all the way to Pennsylvania and booked it from the outset.
And now that they have arrived, fans from Hawaii are enjoying themselves and the large crowds that have packed Lamade Stadium since the Hawaii team's arrival last week. They are calling it a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
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SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. » Billy Duhay was sitting at his home in Hawaii when his wife asked a simple question.
"Before we even played our district tournament in June, my wife was looking at flights in and out of Williamsport," he said. "She kept asking me if she should book the trip now. I told her, 'Yes, book it. We are going to go all the way.'"
Billy's son, Caleb, is one of the top pitchers on the Waipio Little League All-Star team, which is undefeated after Pool B play. The Hawaii team is considered one of the favorites to represent the United States in Sunday's Little League World Series championship game.
"If we would have waited until we won the regional, it gets so crazy," Billy Duhay said. "Prices get much higher. We planned it by faith, and we ended up winning our regional. It's been good."
While the Little Leaguers enjoy the experience, atmosphere and energy of the World Series, it's mom, dad and grandparents that get the real headaches.
There's the travel.
There's the price of plane tickets and hotel rooms.
Then they have to strategically plan vacation time at their respective places of employment.
"We only really had one day to plan," said Elaine Fong, whose son, Kainoa, was 3-for-3 in yesterday's 6-4 victory over South Dakota. "We got back from the West Regional on a Monday, and we turned around to leave on a Wednesday. So, we basically had less than two days to get everything done. It was difficult since we were one of the last regions to have the tournaments. There were no hotels when we looked around the Williamsport area, so we are staying like 40 miles away."
Emerald Winchester cheered on the Waipio Little League team Sunday against Tampa, Fla., in a baseball game during pool play at the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa.
It's been quite the ride — from Hawaii to California for the West Regional, then from California to South Williamsport for the Little League World Series. Some parents left straight from San Bernardino, Calif., while others returned home for a few days.
"It is really hard," said Waipio manager Timo Donahue, whose son, Christian, is a standout middle infielder and pitcher. "Out of all the teams, we are one that has to come pretty far. I think everyone is going to be excited to go back home and sleep in their own beds. But it is so exciting here, and that excitement is something that these kids are going to remember forever."
Billy Duhay considers himself one of the lucky ones.
"Financially it is tough," he said. "We've been blessed with our in-laws and our parents to help us. My mom has helped us greatly and has supported us. It's been good. It's been like a dream come true. It's like Disneyland, except at a baseball field. It's hard to imagine that we are here, actually.
"I am amazed by the baseball fever and the enthusiasm. We don't get this much support watching baseball. I know for a fact that the University of Hawaii baseball team doesn't get this many people at its games. It's been great. My son and I have been imagining this day and envisioning getting here. It's amazing."
For Cindy Akau the Little League World Series dealt her another dilemma.
Her son, Iolana, was struck with a pitch in the opening game Friday against Connecticut. He has missed the last two games but could return tomorrow for a semifinal contest.
"He's been very positive, and he likes the fact that all the kids are treated like celebrities here," she said with a smile. "He's enjoying it, all the attention he's getting."
Like Billy Duhay, Cindy Akau talked about the network of support everyone has given her family.
The company where her husband, Kiha (a coach on the team), works has been tremendous. Plus, she couldn't compliment Iolana's school, St. Joseph's, enough.
"Last year, when we left, they had to take all of their homework with them and turn it in over the Internet and stuff. This year they said they would support us and catch them up when they arrived back," Cindy Akau said. "(Kiha's) company has been so supportive with making sure he's had the time off. He's been checking in with them every now and then, providing them with updates on the kids and how the team has been doing."
Despite the issues — the travel, living out of hotels, dealing with the additional financial burden — it's all worth it in the end.
"It's been awesome," Cindy Akau said. "The folks in Williamsport have been extremely nice to us and very supportive of our team. I'm surprised by how many Hawaii fans that we have here. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our boys. We're glad and appreciative to be here."