Bubba’s big stage
With 92-94 mph fastball, Bears pitcher attracts attention of scouts
WAILUKU — Anthony Hoopii-Tuionetoa has been on big baseball stages: starting as a sophomore for Baldwin High School’s 2016 state championship team, and back-to-back trips to trips to the Senior League World Series come to mind.
The Bears senior addressed by almost all who know him as “Bubba” has never experienced anything quite like he did on Friday afternoon when he took the mound at Maehara Stadium to face Maryknoll in the Maui High School Invitational.
Scouts from the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox were in the house to watch his first start on the mound as a varsity player. Hoopii-Tuionetoa is rapidly drawing attention from the professional baseball world as his fastball has reached speeds of 92-94 mph.
“I just went out to throw my game,” the 6-foot-1, 182-pound right-hander said. “When I got command of my fastball, I started hitting my spots and after that I just got into a groove.”
Hoopii-Tuionetoa lasted four innings, throwing 71 pitches in a no-decision in the game that ended in a 4-4 tie due to the two-hour time limit put in place for the tournament. He allowed four runs, five hits, struck out three and walked three.
“Doing what I do, throwing the ball hard, that’s pretty much it,” Hoopii-Tuionetoa said. “Fastball, I throw split-finger, a change-up and curveball. I’m working on a slider. The change-up was good today, the split-finger, too, was working a little bit.”
Baldwin coach Shane Dudoit said that knowing scouts were in the stands with radar guns had to weigh on Hoopii-Tuionetoa’s mind.
“They’ve been talking to him yesterday and today,” Dudoit said. “I don’t know if it put a little pressure on him — I’m sure it does when a scout comes to get a kid from Hawaii that’s throwing in the 90s. I think he might have let it get to him just a little bit. I went out there to tell him, ‘Just be you. No need to impress anybody, just be you.’
“He did well. You have got to remember he didn’t even pitch for us last year. He just came along this year at an increasing velocity.”
The only real trouble spot for Hoopii-Tuionetoa came in a three-run second inning. He struck out Justice Yamashita on a nasty curveball and got a groundout from Hailama Swartman to start the inning, but then he hit a batter, gave up an RBI double and walked two straight to load the bases.
A high bouncer back to the mound by Maddux Miyasato glanced off of Hoopii-Tuionetoa’s glove, keeping the inning alive and scoring a run. He walked in a run before getting out of the frame by inducing a pop fly.
“I just kept commanding the game, kept it at my own pace, and just started throwing the ball,” Hoopii-Tuionetoa said. “Some of it wasn’t working, but eventually it just came on.”
That composure was impressive, according to Maryknoll coach Eric Kadooka, who coached Punahou to seven straight state titles from 2004 to 2010.
“Very firm,” Kadooka said. “He keeps the ball down. Obviously with his build the sky’s the limit for that boy. He’s real loose, he’s long, he can throw a lot harder eventually. He’s got a great future.”
Hoopii-Tuionetoa said that he will consider four-year schools, junior college and the Major League Baseball draft in June.
“Keeping my options open,” he said.
Both Dan Cox, the Braves’ area scout for Hawaii, and L.C. Smith of the Red Sox talked to Hoopii-Tuionetoa on Thursday and Friday.
“It was on my mind somewhat, plenty of people from Hawaii don’t really get the opportunity,” Hoopii-Tuionetoa said. “They don’t get as much opportunities to meet these kind of guys as they should, so it’s hard not to think about.”
Hoopii-Tuionetoa smiled when asked about the chance to be seen he helped bring for other players on the field.
“A lot of pride in that,” he said. “There’s plenty of good kids over here, not just in the MIL, but throughout the state, period.”
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com.