[ BASEBALL ]
COURTESY FORT MYERS MIRACLE
Kaulana Kuhaulua expected more than an All-Star season in his first year in the Florida State League.
Hawaii players take
first step toward
FOURTH OF FIVE PARTS
The Hawaii batters who played Single-A ball all summer or finished the season at that level were Darren Blakely, Brian Bock, Rodney Choy Foo, Brian Finegan, Micah Furtado, Kaulana Kuhaulua, Kila Ka'aihue, Tim Montgomery, Duke Sardinha and Kurt Suzuki.
This level, including the four leagues classified as rookie, is where most baseball careers start. The pay is not great, the bus rides can be long, apartments can be crowded with teammates, it's the bottom of the organized baseball ladder.
The goal for most of these players is to go to spring training next year and move up that ladder. Blakely may pursue playing in Japan in 2005.
Suzuki (Baldwin, Cal State Fullerton) survived the transition from college ball to the pros -- using a wood bat and playing every day -- to turn in a successful season.
"I thought the competition was the same as what I faced during my college career. The pros are a business and you have to do what they want," said Suzuki, who is attending instructional league.
Suzuki, a second-round pick, alternated with catcher Landon Powell, the Oakland Athletics' first draft choice. Suzuki hit .294 with 31 runs batted in in 44 games for the Vancouver Canadians of the Northwest League.
"I thought I did OK. In pro ball, if you fail seven out of 10 times, you are still doing a good job. I like to do things right. I talked with my manager (Dennis Rogers) about dealing with failure. It was a learning experience and I'm glad I learned it now," said Suzuki.
Blakely, signed by the Chicago White Sox after a year of playing independent ball, started the season with the Birmingham Barons of the Class AA Southern League, but did not have much success as a spot player.
"I wasn't playing much in Double A, every third or fourth day. They had their guys they wanted to play," said Blakely, a pro since 1998. "I hit well on the road (17-for-56), but was only 1-for-28 at home."
Saddled with a .218 batting average, the former UH Rainbow outfielder was sent to the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Warthogs in the Carolina League. Again, he wasn't playing every day, but that eventually changed as he helped the Warthogs go from 29-41 in the first half to 45-24 in the second half and a berth in the league playoffs.
"When I started playing every day, I put up some good numbers," said Blakely.
He ended up leading the Carolina League in home runs (25) and topped the Warthogs with a .590 slugging percentage.
The White Sox told Blakely they want him back, but he will be a free agent next Friday.
"I'm going to wait and see what happens. I want to test the market, but I'm getting older (27) and need to make some money," he said.
Furtado, in his second pro season, got a late start due to rotator-cuff damage to his right shoulder. Surgery was not necessary. Instead, he rehabbed until the end of May at the Texas Rangers' spring training facility at Surprise, Ariz.
"I did DH in extended spring, but only played one game in the field. When I got to Clinton I felt I could do the job in the two-hole (in the batting order). Midway through the season they moved me to the three-hole," said Furtado, who played 82 games at second base.
He led the LumberKings, who reached the second round of the playoffs, with a .303 batting average and 17 stolen bases.
The Rangers sent Furtado (Kapaa, Lewis-Clark State) to instructional league.
"I'll be working on my double-play feed and pivot. I committed a lot of errors last year, so I want to improve my defense, cut down on strikeouts and do better hitting the changeup," Furtado said.
Finegan and Montgomery, former Hawaii Rainbows in their first season of pro ball, will receive championship rings during spring training after helping the Mahoning Valley (Niles, Ohio) Scrappers win the New York-Penn League title.
Finegan, a 15th-round pick in June by the Cleveland Indians, could not buy a hit to start the season despite making good contact with pitches. As late as Aug. 1, his batting average was a lowly .167.
"I couldn't catch a break, but everything turned around in August. I was on fire," said Finegan.
That is when Finegan hit .329 (47-for-143) to spark the Scrappers, who didn't clinch the wild-card berth in the playoffs until the last game of the season. He ended the year hitting .255.
"It felt pretty good when we won the whole thing. The fans were great. They knew what was going on, what we were playing for. It was exciting," said Finegan.
"I was happy and surprised with my season. I'm not a big money guy, but I was the shortstop from day one. I felt I could play with anybody at the end. If I had another month, I would have reached .300."
He had high expectations, but came to terms with himself when he realized it took time to adjust to the pro grind.
Montgomery, who was invited to instructional league, said, "The last few weeks we couldn't lose. It was nice to have something to play for down the stretch and to get into the playoffs the last game was something else."
The Scrappers center fielder hit .269 with 14 doubles, two triples, seven home runs and 32 RBIs. He has some specific areas to work on in instructional league.
"I'm just going to try to be more consistent, cut down on strikeouts (67 in 65 games), learn my swing more and develop more strike-zone discipline," said Montgomery, a 2003 23rd-round pick by Cleveland.
"The year was a learning experience first and foremost. I had a good time."
Kuhaulua (Waianae, Long Beach State), a shortstop, got off to a good start for the Ft. Myers Miracle in the Florida State League but didn't think his season was statistically the best.
"I played good defense most of the season, but got into a slump at the end of the season and got frustrated," said Kuhaulua. "Everyone tried to help. I got so much information I got more confused."
He was named to the West Division team for the FSL all-star game and teamed with second baseman Bronson Sardinha for that showcase.
The 170-pounder dropped 15 pounds during the season due to the Florida heat and he wants to regain that weight during the offseason at home.
Bock (UH) played for all three Baltimore Class-A farm teams in Maryland -- Delmarva, Aberdeen and Frederick.
"Getting sent around has its advantage. I know almost all the coaches and pitchers at this level in the Orioles' organization," said Bock, who ended up behind the plate in 52 of the 56 games he played.
His combined batting average was .202.
"I could have done better at the plate, but I thought I caught really well. I worked a lot on going the other way (with the pitch) and changed some other things. It will take some work," said Bock, who is continuing work on his undergraduate degree at Cal State Bakersfield during the offseason.
Ka'aihue (Iolani) led the Burlington Bees (Midwest League) in three offensive categories, home runs (15), RBIs (62) and walks (62) and tied for the team lead with five sacrifice flies as the everyday first baseman. The third-year pro in the Kansas City Royals organization hit .246, his best for a full season, and earned league player of the week honors (Aug. 1-8).
Choy Foo (Kailua) began the season with the Akron Aeros in the Class AA Eastern League, but after hitting just .194 as the regular second baseman in 51 games, Cleveland officials sent him to the Kinston Indians in the Carolina League.
"Nothing was different at Akron. I just couldn't hit. I guess I put too much pressure on myself," said Choy Foo.
"When I got to Kinston, I was playing with guys I've been with for three years. I still struggled, but I was more comfortable. This was a learning year. You have one of those years and I hope it doesn't happen again."
Kinston won the Carolina League championship series and that made everything a whole lot better for Choy Foo.
Duke Sardinha (Kamehameha, Pepperdine) had surgery in spring training to repair the broken scaphoid bone in his right hand, an injury that happened during the 2003 season.
"It took five or six months to heal around the screw. It's the worst bone to break because there is no blood flow to the area," said Sardinha, who will try to get some at-bats in the Colorado Rockies instructional league camp at Tucson, Ariz.
He did play for Visalia in the California League in August but only went to bat 30 times.
Kainoa Obrey spent the summer in physical therapy sessions dealing with a herniated disc in his lower back. The discs either side of that one are bulging. The problem still exists. Obrey, an Iolani and Brigham Young graduate, is considering surgery.
"I definitely want to play again," said Obrey, a third baseman in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.
Chad Boudon (Hawaii, Washington) played in just two games for the Baltimore Orioles' farm team at Aberdeen (Md.) in the New York-Penn League, then was released.