Life in the Minors

Brendan Sagara

Taking a rare
opportunity for
a midseason reunion

The time for baseball storytelling usually comes in the off-season for me.

Sitting in the dugout at Ala Wai Field during an Oahu Fall League game, chatting with my teammate and buddy Bruce Sugawa, or while shooting baskets with my pal Rick Kuwahara, over the phone with Sacramento Kings basketball information director Darryl Arata, or over beers at Mitchel Kagawa's house.

But the times I look forward to most are the days I get to sit down and smoke a cigar with my pal, minor league umpire Ryan Arasato, so we can swap tales about those high-strung coaches and all those visually challenged umpires.

Usually I'll drive out to Ryan's place in Kaimuki and pick him up so we can hit the gym. We typically return to Ryan's house, where his mom will undoubtedly have a gourmet meal fit for a king -- or a starving minor leaguer -- where we devour anything that isn't moving on the dinner table.

Then comes story time.

We'll pull out some stools and light up a couple of fine cigars, and sit and talk and laugh for hours upon hours. We'll talk about the best ejections we saw during the season, the longest home runs, the fastest fastballs, the curviest curveballs, and whatever else comes to mind.

Our correspondence during the summer is usually limited to phone tag as we go from city to city, town to town, chasing our dreams throughout the minor league season.

This season is different. With strong performances behind the plate and in the field, Ryan received a promotion this year, jumping from the short-season Northwest League to the long-season Midwest League.

My coaching duties with the Kenosha Mammoths have me out here in the Midwest as well. So upon finally getting in touch, we started going through our schedules to see if we would be near each other at any point. After a couple of days of comparing schedules, we found out that we both had an off day in the upcoming week.

So it was settled. We would meet on the off day and eat and hang out and talk story. Just like back home. The day: Wednesday, Aug. 6. The place: Izakaya Sankyu Restaurant, in Mt. Prospect, Illinois. Dinner time. Time to grind.

We picked Izakaya Sankyu because the chef, Yotaro Ishikawa, is a friend of our shortstop, fellow Hawaii resident Bryce Uegawachi, dating back to their Kaiser High School days.

Bryce and I made our way over to Yotaro's place a week earlier, and the food was so good that we just wanted to sleep right there in the restaurant, wake up and eat some more.

Ryan, my teammate from UH-Hilo, also spent a season as a teammate of Bryce's at Hawaii Pacific, so we were all familiar with each other. Ryan brought his umpiring partner, while Bryce and I rolled up with our host sister Erin, and our Japanese outfielder, Tomihiko Horiguchi.

After trading introductions, we headed inside to eat.We all shared sushi. Shrimp tempura rolls, ahi rolls, California rolls. A good warm-up. And then we dug in for dinner. Chicken katsu, teriyaki chicken, teriyaki steaks, miso soup, more sushi, tempura, sashimi. Even green tea ice cream, which I actually like quite a bit.

As we ate, we all talked. With a joker of a coach, two players and a pair of umpires, we pretty much had a full house going.

Ryan told me about all of the Hawaii boys he had seen this season. He told me about the time he was working home plate and watched Bronson Sardinha lean into one to launch his seventh homer of the year for the Battle Creek Yankees. And about when he saw Kila Ka'aihue with the Burlington Bees. Ryan told Kila he missed the beach. Kila said he missed his Rainbow Drive-In plate lunches.

We talked for a couple of hours. About the umpires of the Frontier League. About our latest road-trip mishaps. About how our season was going, about how Ryan's year was working out. About what we missed about home.

We all had a ball. We all needed it. Being away from the beach and Rainbow Drive-In and Ryan's mom's cooking and my dad's Sunday morning pancakes and my mom's pot roast, my truck and all of the other unique things that make Hawaii like no other place in the world to me, it was a reminder that home will always be home and that friends will always be friends.

Whether it may be in Kaimuki or the middle of Illinois. Home is where the heart is ... or maybe where the food is, too.

Brendan Sagara, a former University of Hawaii-Hilo pitcher, is in his first season as pitching coach with the Kenosha (Wis.) Mammoths.


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