Na Koa’s opener draws near

WAILUKU – As Kalaika Kahoohalahala strode off the field at Maehara Stadium at the conclusion of Na Koa Ikaika Maui’s practice on Thursday, he walked with a new confidence.

Two years ago, Kahoohalahala was a little-used reserve infielder for the independent league team, a member of the roster in large part because of his Maui roots.

When Na Koa open on Tuesday against the Ishikawa Million Stars of Japan, he will be the local leader of the team at second base.

“Very excited. I have been working hard this past season – it is good now,” Kahoo-halahala said after a scrimmage with the Hawaii Stars.

The 2006 Maui High School graduate, the only Mauian expected to be on the opening-day roster, has put 30 pounds onto what is now a 5-foot-10, 175-pound frame.

“I have a lot more experience now, I have been working on everything to be ready for this,” he said.

While expected to be the starter at second base, Kahoohalahala can also line up at shortstop, pitch and handle an outfield spot.

“Basically anywhere they want to put me is fine with me,” he said. “Pitching? Maybe. We have got some arms, but I will play anywhere they want to put me.”

Kahoohalahala and Kamehameha Kapalama graduate Waylen Sing Chow are the only Hawaii-born players in spring training.

For the first three seasons of Na Koa’s existence, Baldwin graduate Gered Mochizuki was the main Maui link to the team. Mochizuki has retired from baseball.

Kahoohalahala learned the game for his grandfather Moody Kahoo-halahala, who was in the stands watching practice on Thursday.

“Oh yeah, I have got to bring it home for the family,” Kalaika Kahoohalahala said. “Just get it done.”

First-year manager Jeff Brooks, who was Maui’s pitching coach last year under manager Jamie Vermil-yea, will finalize the roster Monday.

“Last year I learned a lot from Jamie,” Brooks said. “I felt like we were co-managers last year the way he let me help.”

Pitching coach Chris Waters, who worked with Brooks teaching youngsters the game in Florida over the winter, is also part of the pitching staff, and is scheduled to be the starter on Wednesday.

“It is the first time I have ever taken on both coaching and playing,” Waters said. “So I am kind of learning as I go, but I believe it is going to help me with my pitching.”

Chad Blackwell and Jesse Smith anchor the rotation as returnees from last season.

“They attack the zone, they are confident in their stuff and I have complete faith in every one of them, all 10 of my pitchers,” Waters said. “Right now I’m going to start the second game, but if somebody beats me out I am going to put them out there.”

The 32-year-old Waters was 4-5 in 16 appearances for the Baltimore Orioles in 2008 and 2009, and still has hope of getting back to the major leagues.

“That’s every man’s dream to get there, to stay there, to get back there,” he said. “If it happens I would like to, but right now my priority is these kids and coaching.”

* Robert Collias is at