Monday, April 26, 1999
After a decade in the big leagues,By Dave Reardon
the Iolani alum thought his career
might be over, but he has found a role
-- and made some history
Special to the Star-Bulletin
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - As he tries to unwind in the visiting clubhouse at Tropicana Field after another Orioles loss, Mike Fetters talks about being unfortunate in his career. Then lucky, then unlucky again - all in the space of a few months.
And in the middle of it all, he somehow made it to the Hall of Fame.
Well, at least his cap did. Fetters turned 34 last December. He had an injury-plagued 1998 season, in which he didn't pitch very well. And he's right-handed.
For all those reasons, he thought he might be done after 10 years in the major leagues.
"I found it tough getting a job this winter," said the former Iolani star who grew up in Ewa Beach. "I had to throw for these guys to even get a chance to try out. I guess they liked what they saw."
When he made the Baltimore Orioles as a spring training invitee last month, Fetters then thought he'd found a long-awaited chance to pitch in the postseason.
"I've been on losing teams my whole career," said Fetters, who toiled for California, Milwaukee, Oakland and the Angels again before hooking up with the Orioles. "This is the first time I came to a spring training where on paper the team is as good as any other team in baseball."
Key phrase: "on paper."
The Orioles are trying to endure a disastrous April -- they are 4-14. Having Cal Ripken and Will Clark on the disabled list doesn't help, and manager Ray Miller could lose his job at anytime.
"One day it's pitching, one day it's defense, one day it's hitting," Fetters said. "Something always seems to go wrong."
Last Wednesday's 14-7 loss to the Devil Rays was typically terrible; staff ace Mike Mussina was shelled, Albert Belle lost a ball in the Tropicana Field ceiling, and Jeff Conine tried to advance from second to third on a grounder to short in front of him.
Fetters provided a few highlights.
He pitched two innings of mop-up relief, striking out four, including Jose Canseco, who had homered twice, and Wade Boggs,
who had two hits earlier. Randy Winn's single was the lone blemish.
Two nights later, as the Orioles opened a homestand against Oakland, Fetters won in relief.
Fetters' numbers so far aren't that great; he's given up six earned runs over nine innings in eight games and has walked eight. But he's also struck out eight and feels he's getting better with each outing.
"He's been throwing the ball really well. He's been . . . coming in early and working with the pitching coach (Bruce Kison) on improving his mechanics," Miller said.
Fetters agreed that Kison helps. But he also got some fine-tuning over the winter from Aki Yonamine, uncle of his catcher at Iolani, Dean Yonamine, and brother of Japan League legend Wally Yonamine.
Aki Yonamine had already gotten Fetters on track once before.
"Before I went to Milwaukee in 1992, he helped turn my mechanics around," said Fetters, who had his best years as a set-up man and closer with the Brewers. "Dean told me, 'Hey, my uncle wants to talk to you.' At that point, I had nothing to lose, I had to find something quick. He got me straightened out."
Yonamine, 76, lives in Aiea Heights, where he has a batting cage and pitching mound and continues to work with young players.
"His release point used to be too far back," he said of Fetters. "Why show the batter the ball for 60 feet when you can show it 54 feet?"
Fetters said that this time Yonamine helped him get back to using his legs to pitch more than his upper body. He favored his upper body last year because of leg injuries, and his control suffered.
Dean Yonamine -- who now coaches at Iolani, where he and Fetters won a state championship in 1983 -- keeps in touch, too.
"He called me the day he got back from Cuba," Dean said.
Fetters phoned to share the brightest moment of his career --getting the win in the historic preseason game between the Orioles and the Cuban national team.
"The atmosphere was wonderful. The fans were great. Those people had very good baseball knowledge," Fetters said. "There were a lot of differences. They play with these soft, spongy balls. We had an advantage because they weren't used to wood bats and they were afraid to get jammed. The field looked green on television, but it was basically spray-painted green."
Fetters was congratulated by Cuban president Fidel Castro, and his cap was sent to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
"Not only was I representing the United States, but I felt I was representing my family and the state of Hawaii," he said.
Fetters lives in Arizona with his wife, Tanya (she was a multi-sport athlete at St. Andrew's Priory and is a cousin of local entertainer Brickwood Galuteria), and their children Bryant, Micah, Tyana and Breanna.
"They're not really into baseball. All of them play basketball," said Fetters, who also starred for Iolani's 1982 state champion basketball team."
He said he and Tanya have talked about moving back to Hawaii soon.
"We're throwing back and forth the idea," he said. "It's getting close to the end of my career and time to get back to where it all started for me."
First, though, Mike Fetters hopes fortune spins again, and his most memorable game will be one played in the postseason, not the preseason.
MAJOR LEAGUE RECORDTEAM YEAR W-L Saves ERA California Angels 1989 0-0 0 8.10 California Angels 1990 1-1 1 4.12 California Angels 1991 2-5 0 4.84 Milwaukee Brewers 1992 5-1 2 1.87 Milwaukee Brewers 1993 3-3 0 3.34 Milwaukee Brewers 1994 1-4 17 2.54 Milwaukee Brewers 1995 0-3 22 3.38 Milwaukee Brewers 1996 3-3 32 3.38 Milwaukee Brewers 1997 1-5 6 3.45 Oakland Athletics 1998 1-6 5 3.99 Anaheim Angels 1998 1-2 0 5.56 Baltimore Orioles 1999 1-0 0 6.00