Bubba elects to take college route

Bubba Hoopii-Tuionetoa has elected to enroll at Yavapai Junior College in Arizona. -- The Maui News File Photo

The baseball odyssey traveled by Bubba Hoopii-Tuionetoa in the past year took a definitive turn on Friday.

Hoopii-Tuionetoa let the deadline to sign with the Minnesota Twins pass — surrendering a $100,000 signing bonus offer — and will enroll at Yavapai College in Arizona to play his next season of baseball.

“Honestly, it was pretty tough, but I felt like it was something that would benefit me down the line more than just having baseball as the one option,” Hoopii-Tuionetoa said. “I didn’t want it to not work out and, you know, have problems down the line. … I feel like going to school and focusing on school and baseball will be beneficial both ways.”

The right-handed pitcher/outfielder — a recent Baldwin High School graduate and the consensus state player of the year for the state champions who finished ranked eighth in the nation by USA Today — was selected in the 16th round, 484th overall, by the Twins in last month’s draft.

Hoopii-Tuionetoa traveled to the Twins’ facility in Fort Myers, Fla., with Shane Dudoit, his advisor and coach at Baldwin, with the intention of signing three days after he was selected on June 6.

He hit a snag when he did not pass his initial physical a day after his arrival In Florida. He passed a subsequent physical, but returned home to consider his options until making the final decision to let the MLB signing deadline pass on Friday.

“My EKG came out kind of funny, for the heartbeat,” he said of the failing the first physical. “I didn’t get the go right ahead right off the bat, so I had to re-do all of that about two weeks later. On the second (physical), I was good.”

By attending a junior college, Hoopii-Tuionetoa will be eligible for the draft again next season, and the following season, if necessary.

He was 5-0 on the mound in Maui Interscholastic League play with 36 strikeouts in 30 innings without allowing an earned run and just nine walks and seven hits. In his junior season for the Bears, he pitched just one inning. In the state tournament he won a semifinal start against Iolani and hit .600 with seven RBIs in three games.

“I can possibly up my draft stock, maybe go higher than the 16th round after a couple years or a year,” Hoopii-Tuionetoa said.

He will attend Yavapai with fellow all-state Baldwin standout Chayce Akaka, his friend since childhood.

“It’s really exciting, just to have someone, one of my close friends, pretty much family, a brother to me,” Hoopii-Tuionetoa said. “Being able to surround myself up there with him, continue on playing baseball with him, it’s good.”

Dudoit and Hoopii-Tuionetoa were grateful that the Twins did not ask for repayment of travel and lodging expenses doled out to the player who does not turn 18 until Aug. 11.

“Definitely, I really am honestly grateful,” Hoopii-Tuionetoa said. “They respect the decision. I would be open to being drafted by them again next year, or anything.”

The decision was not easy, but Hoopii-Tuionetoa said he was glad to have it made.

“I just felt that this would be good for me, that this move would be better for me, more experience, too,” he said. “It feels good to know what I’m going to be doing now.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com

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