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Tanabe a prize catch for Pearl City


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POSTED: Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Carlton Tanabe had squatted behind the plate to warm up a pitcher countless times before.

This, though, was a little different.

As he had most of the fall, Tanabe was hanging around Hans L'Orange Park helping his father keep the playing surface manicured for the big-bonus prospects getting their work in during the Hawaii Winter Baseball season.

Over the course of the fall, injuries left the West Oahu CaneFires thin at catcher and looking for someone to help a pitcher loosen up in the bullpen. That's when someone mentioned that kid over there — the one who'd been raking the field after the games — could handle himself behind the plate.

“;Once they asked me I was so happy,”; Tanabe said.

There wasn't any money involved and, granted, bullpen catcher isn't exactly one of the game's most glamorous jobs. But the experience of framing fastballs hissing toward him in the mid to high 90s or tracking the bite on those off-the-table sliders was payment enough.

And after a few of those sessions, he'd become more than just the kid on the grounds crew.

“;I was kind of scared at first,”; Tanabe said, “;but then I got to jell with those guys and it was like I was on the team, just younger.”;

With the lessons of the fall behind him, Carlton Tanabe has returned to his role as one of Pearl City's senior leaders this spring.

The Pearl City coaches entrusted Tanabe, the son of former University of Hawaii catcher Collin Tanabe, with calling pitches since he came up to the varsity as a sophomore and he's helped the Chargers to a 6-0 start entering Saturday's OIA Red West doubleheader against Aiea at Central Oahu Regional Park.

“;He's smart behind the plate,”; Pearl City coach Gary Nakamoto said. “;We're very fortunate to have somebody like that. ... We have a lot of confidence in him calling the games.”;

“;He's fortunate this pitching staff has put a lot of faith in him,”; said Collin Tanabe, a prominent figure in the Rainbows' magical run to a runner-up finish in the 1980 College World Series. “;That's the whole key.”;

Along with his leadership on defense, Tanabe enters Saturday hitting .368 with six doubles, two triples, six home runs and 20 RBIs.

Last Saturday, he hit a three-run homer in the first inning to open a doubleheader against Waianae and added a double and a two-run triple in the second game to raise his average to .500 in OIA Red West play.

His father's legacy as a college and minor league catcher could lead to the assumption that Tanabe was destined to put on the gear since birth.

Not so, according to Collin, a fifth-round draft choice of the Milwaukee Brewers in 1981.

“;That's what he wanted to do,”; he said. “;He played Little League and PONY and they just play all different positions. But as he moved up he wanted to strap 'em up. That was his decision, not mine.”;

Where Collin cited a lack of speed in dictating his position back in his youth, Carlton was attracted to the constant engagement involved in catching.

“;I had to stay focused,”; Carlton said. “;If I played outfield I'd get lost.”;

Once Carlton did settle in behind the plate, Collin could help him develop the mind-set and observational skills essential to the position as well as the fundamentals of throwing and blocking pitches.

“;I used to go watch games with him, so he'd talk about how to call a game,”; said Carlton, who learned to note “;where (the batters) stand, how they swing, all those little things.”;

While his father remains one of Carlton's biggest influences, Collin is also preparing his son to take the next step after his high school career.

“;Certain things I just remind him of, but as a whole, it's kind of like I want him to learn and go on his own,”; Collin said. “;He's a senior now and he'll probably be on the mainland, so 5,000 miles away from home he can't be calling, 'Dad, how am I going to throw this guy?' “;

Carlton has signed with Yavapai (Ariz.) College, but before he looks ahead to college there's the matter of trying to retain the OIA Red championship and return to the state tournament, where the Chargers finished third last season.

“;We're coming together,”; he said. “;Nobody argues with each other, we all jell.”;