Na Koa to open May 28
WAILUKU – While there will be a little bit of familiar, a lot of new is on tap for Na Koa Ikaika Maui in their fourth season, scheduled to begin May 28 at Maehara Stadium.
The independent league team will be playing in the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs after it debuted in the Golden Baseball League in 2010 and played the last two seasons under the North American Baseball League banner.
Jeff Brooks has moved up from pitching coach to become Na Koa’s fifth manager.
“Brooks was very grateful to get the job,” said Maui general manager David Andrus. “Jamie (Vermilyea, last year’s manager) got a job as a pitching coach up in Canada.
He wants to get some extra things on his resume, but has already expressed that he really wished that he had come back.”
Female knuckleballer Eri Yoshida will be back for her third season with Na Koa, according to Andrus.
Spring training starts this week, with a few local names back in the fold. Maui High School graduate Kalaika Kahoohalahala will return, and Baldwin graduate Gered Mochizuki may be back, according to Andrus, though another Maui High graduate, Joseph Kala, will not.
Na Koa’s pitching coach will be Chris Waters, who appeared in 16 games, 12 as a starter, for the Baltimore Orioles in 2008 and 2009, compiling a 4-5 record. Waters, 32, took the loss as the Orioles’ starter in the final game played at the original Yankee Stadium, in 2008.
“He’s still going to pitch for us, he’s one of our studs,” Andrus said. “He wants to get some coaching under his belt, but is not yet ready to hang up his cleats.”
Jesse Smith and Chad Blackwell will also be back to pitch – both were in last season’s starting rotation.
Andrus said he is talking with 22-year-old Australian Angus Roeger, whose eight home runs for the Adelaide Bite tied for second in the Australian Baseball League in 2012.
“I’m working on about seven visas right now, including Yoshida’s and a young pitcher we are excited about, Naoki Yamagama,” Andrus said.
“We have a pretty good mix, but right now we are still looking for local players, at any position.”
Na Koa will be in a league with the same group of teams as last season – the Hawaii Stars, San Rafael (Calif.) Pacifics and Vallejo (Calif.) Admirals (formerly the Sonoma County Grapes), a group that comprised the North Division of the NABL in 2012.
Bob Young owns Na Koa and the Stars.
Vallejo will be managed by former Los Angeles Dodgers standout Pedro Guerrero. The Pacific Association commissioner is Mike Marshall, a former Dodgers first baseman.
Maui will play a 54-game league schedule, with 18 other games slated against nonleague opponents, including meetings with two Japanese teams to open the season – the Ishikawa Million Stars and Shinano. Na Koa are scheduled to have 41 home games altogether.
Maui is to finish its regular season with a 10-game road trip that will include meetings with Arizona teams from the Freedom League, in Peoria and Goodyear.
The Pacific Association playoffs are scheduled for Aug. 27-29 in San Rafael.
Andrus said the plan is still to expand the current set of teams into a Pacific Rim playoff system that would be played in Hawaii in the future.
“We are trying to see what kind of growth potential we have on a couple levels,” he said. “For instance, we have known always, as everyone knows in Hawaii, that you need more than two teams.
“Even then we can pick and choose from Asian teams and Mainland teams who have already expressed a desire to come out here. They need a good reason to come out here for two weeks.”
Andrus said work is also being done to allow for smoother movement between Japanese independent leagues and the Pacific Association.
“We have gone to great extremes to make it easier for players in their league and players in our league to get contacts in either one, so they can move up and move over,” Andrus said.
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com