Maui high alumnus Royce Fukuroku was helped to his feet by coach Rigo Lopez after being caught in a rundown.

Fukuroku is USF’s
Hawaiian Superman

SAN FRANCISCO » When Maui native Royce Fukuroku steps in to hit, he resembles a bat boy more than a batter. Even with his pants generously rolled under, they nearly hang to his heels and catch on his cleats.

At 5-foot-3, San Francisco's senior second baseman is one of the shortest players in Division I. But the little man is doing big things for the Dons, who could be headed toward the best season in school history and, they hope, the program's first postseason berth.

"This year's one of those breakout years, and he's the biggest reason," USF coach Nino Giarratano said.

Fukuroku, who starred at Maui High School, got slighted by Sports Illustrated, but he doesn't care. In the April 18 edition, the magazine reported about players believed to be college baseball's shortest and tallest -- and Fukuroku was left out. Louisville sophomore shortstop Chris Cates is also 5-3, while Notre Dame pitcher Ryan Doherty is 7-1. There were photos of those two.

Fukuroku hit a game-winning RBI single in the 10th inning of the Dons' 2-1 win over Loyola Marymount yesterday for USF's sixth straight victory. He is batting .344 with 16 RBIs, and his five homers tie him for the team lead. Fukuroku also has seven steals in eight attempts and has been hit by a pitch a team-high 10 times.

"It's great to hear the other teams talk about him. They always wonder how he does that or how small he is, how does he hit the ball that far?" said pitcher Patrick McGuigan, a Mid-Pacific Institute alumnus who is one of four Dons from Hawaii (Mililani alum Cy Donald and Iolani alum Travis McGaughy are the others).

"Things don't get handed to him when he's that short. He goes out there to prove people wrong. They're not looking for him to succeed. ... He just brings an attitude that he can't be beat to the field every day and it rubs off on the other guys."

It even rubs off on opposing fans on occasion.

In a game at Fresno State last month, fans hollered, "Hey, No. 8, stand up!" Moments later, Fukuroku homered and those same people bowed to him as he rounded third.

"The other day my friend said: 'I like seeing you hit a home run because I like seeing the pitcher's face. They have their head down,' " he said. "It's funny, though."

Fukuroku knew he was not destined to be tall. His older brother also stands 5-3, his mom is 4-11 and his dad 5-6.

"I expected to be taller than what I am, but not much taller," he said. "I was always the smallest guy on my team. You had to be faster and quicker and you had to get stronger. Height wasn't going to be my ticket anywhere."

Fukuroku connected for a single Tuesday against Sacramento State.

Despite his tiny but muscular frame -- he weighs 150 pounds -- Fukuroku decided at a young age he would be a college baseball player. He began scoring his brother's games at age 5 back home on Maui, and that's how he learned the game. Arizona State was always his dream school, but many of the big programs he contacted didn't show any interest.

"I never thought height would have been an issue," he said. "I'm just glad my coaches gave me an opportunity to play, because not too many places gave me a chance or even looked at me to play Division I baseball. I always knew I could do it. It was if other people believed I could do it."

Teammates call Fukuroku "Hawaiian Superman" -- just like the Israel Kamakawiwo'ole song about the demigod Maui -- and any pitcher will acknowledge that the strike zone for someone of his stature is an unforgiving one.

The Dons are 29-12 after beating LMU yesterday, only five victories shy of the school-record 34 they had in 1998.

"I've seen us at our lowest," said Fukuroku, who will graduate this spring with a degree in business administration. "I just want to be part of history with this school. I don't know if I'm a spark plug, but I just try to do my part any way to help the team."

Reaching the regionals -- the first step toward the College World Series -- would be huge for this program, which only three years ago finished 9-21.

San Francisco plays in a modest stadium on campus, spending more than $13,000 annually to repair nearby buildings that take a beating from foul balls all spring. And a long home run could break the window in a student's apartment or hit a parked car. The Dons lose an average of 12 baseballs per game into the houses over the high fence in foul territory along the first-base side -- just more than $100, since each ball costs $9.

After one recent game, Fukuroku quickly found a spot in front to hear Giarratano's postgame remarks to guarantee they could make eye contact.

With all the physical disadvantages Fukuroku has overcome, his coach would like to see him get a shot at the next level. Giarratano has done his share of campaigning to scouts.

"I hear from the scouts, 'If I had the gumption, I would take him, because he's a good enough baseball player,' " said Giarratano, whose 10-year-old son, Nico, spends hours with Fukuroku learning all sorts of skills. "I don't see why his size should matter. If he's good enough, he's good enough. I think he should be given an opportunity."

Hawaii Baseball Report

Statistics of players with Hawaii ties in professional baseball through Friday's games:

Major Leagues

Pitcher Team, League G IP H ER BB SO W-L ERA
Jerome Williams San Francisco Giants, National 31 11 2/3 12 6 4 6 0-1 4.63


Player Team, League AB R H 2b 3b HR RBI Avg.
Benny Agbayani Chiba Lotte Marines, Pacific 80 13 22 7 0 4 23 .275

Class AAA

Player Team (Franchise), League AB R H 2b 3b HR RBI Avg.
Shane Victorino Scranton/W.B. (Phillies), Inter. 33 4 10 2 1 0 4 .303
Chad Santos Omaha (Royals), Pacific Coast 52 8 15 4 0 4 10 .288
Dane Sardinha Louisville (Reds), International 33 6 9 1 0 1 6 .273
Keoni DeRenne Tucson (Diamondbacks), PCL 26 8 7 1 0 0 0 .269
Pitcher Team (Franchise), League G IP H ER BB SO W-L ERA
Dusty Bergman Salt Lake (Angels), Pacific Coast 5 9 1/3 5 2 1 8 1-1 1.93
Brandon League Syracuse (Blue Jays), Internat'nal 1 3 4 2 5 1 0-0 6.00
Brandon Villafuerte Fresno (Giants), Pacific Coast 6 6 6 7 5 8 0-0 10.30

Class AA

Player Team (Franchise), League AB R H 2b 3b HR RBI Avg.
Rex Rundgren Carolina (Marlins), Southern 36 4 12 0 0 0 2 .333
Brandon Chaves Altoona (Pirates), Eastern 39 6 10 1 0 0 2 .256
Darren Blakely Birmingham (W. Sox), Southern 50 9 12 0 0 4 12 .240
Bronson Sardinha Trenton (Yankees), Eastern 57 5 13 4 1 1 6 .228
Pitcher Team (Franchise), League G IP H ER BB SO W-L ERA
Mark Johnson Erie, Pa. (Tigers), Eastern 5 13 2/3 18 6 2 6 1-0 3.95

Class A

Player Team (Franchise), League AB R H 2b 3b HR RBI Avg.
Kila Ka'aihue High Desert (Royals), California 54 4 15 5 1 1 5 .278
Kurt Suzuki Stockton (Athletics), California 41 8 11 4 1 1 4 .268
Brian Finegan Lake County (Indians), So. Atl 46 2 11 2 1 0 4 .239
Brian Bock Delmarva (Orioles), So. Atlantic 20 0 4 0 0 0 1 .200
Pat Scalabrini Frederick (Orioles), Carolina 26 3 4 1 0 0 1 .154
Pitcher Team (Franchise), League G IP H ER BB SO W-L ERA
Clary Carlsen Clearwater (Phillies), Florida St. 4 9 12 5 4 2 0-0 5.00
Kahi Kaanoi High Desert (Royals), California 3 16 24 8 8 6 0-1 4.50
Reid Santos Lake County (Indians), So. Atlantic 3 15 19 12 7 9 0-1 7.20

» The Toronto Blue Jays optioned Brandon League (Saint Louis) to Syracuse of the International League on Wednesday. The right-hander had allowed 13 hits and seven earned runs in five appearances for the Blue Jays. His earned-run average was 6.75.
» Mark Johnson (Hawaii) made his first start for the Erie Seawolves of the Eastern League on Wednesday after four relief appearances. Johnson pitched three-hit ball for five innings and got the win.
» Chad Santos (Saint Louis) has four homers and 10 runs batted in, tops on the Omaha Royals of the Pacific Coast League.
» Darren Blakely's (Hawaii) four homers and 13 RBIs lead the Birmingham Barons of the Southern League.
» Josh Green (Hawaii) has signed with the Surprise (Ariz.) Fightin' Falcons of the Golden Baseball League, a new independent league that starts play next month. Green was one of 12 players signed after attending a tryout camp last Sunday.

Compiled by Al Chase, Star-Bulletin

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