Hoopii-Tuionetoa feeling at home at Pierce College

Baldwin graduate says fastball at 96 mph, working toward getting drafted again

Bubba Hoopii-Tuionetoa was drafted by the Twins in the 16th round of the MLB amateur draft. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The latest stop on Bubba Hoopii-Tuionetoa’s life journey — Pierce College in Puyallup, Wash. — is precisely where he wants to be right now.

In 2018 — in chronological order — Hoopii-Tuionetoa has helped Baldwin High School finish ranked No. 8 in the nation by USA Today after winning its second Division I state baseball title in three years, graduated from the Wailuku school, been drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 16th round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft, turned down a $100,000 signing bonus from the Twins, and then decline his backup plan of attending junior college baseball power Yavapai.

All of it has led the right-handed pitcher-outfielder to the weather-challenged community college in the Pacific Northwest, where Hoopii-Tuionetoa said his fastball is currently touching 96 mph.

“Their head coach called me after everything at Yavapai didn’t work out, just was giving me the lowdown, how it would be over there,” Hoopii-Tuionetoa said in a recent interview when he was home for Thanksgiving. “It was just comfortable for me to go there, just a better fit personally.”

Hoopii-Tuionetoa — the consensus state player of the year last season after going 5-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 30 innings while allowing seven hits and nine walks and hitting .600 with 7 RBIs in three state tournament games — has been in school since Sept. 24.

“It’s good, I like it, you know, get an education, play baseball,” he said.

Still, the goal is to get drafted again in June.

“I feel like if I work just as hard here as I did on Maui, anything is possible,” Hoopii-Tuionetoa said. “Everything should fall into place. I feel good. The fastball is popping harder than it was over here — 96.”

Hoopii-Tuionetoa said things have worked out for the best for him. He did not turn 18 years old until August.

“Most definitely, I personally think it did,” he said. “Some people might not agree with what I did, but at the end of the day it is my choice. I feel like if I keep working at it my time will come, when the time is right, when I know I’m ready to go on to the next step.”

Former St. Anthony standout Colby Tam is a sophomore on the Pierce roster — the Valley Isle pair are two of nine players on the roster from the 50th state.

“It mixes in the home feeling for me,” Hoopii-Tuionetoa said. “There’s a lot of Hawaii kids on the Pierce team, so it was kind of easier to adapt to. … Everything just felt right, it felt like at home.”

Fellow Baldwin graduate Chayce Akaka, a lifelong friend and teammate of Hoopii-Tuionetoa and The Maui News 2017-18 Boys Athlete of the Year, is doing well as a quarterback for Chabot College in Hayward, Calif.

“We talk every day, one of my closest friends that I’ve had here on Maui,” Hoopii-Tuionetoa said. “It makes me want to be better and do better, you know? Sort of like a competition, friendly rivalry.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com