Baseball club offers opportunities

Kelton Tom tracks down a grounder during an infield drill Friday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

KAHULUI — Baseball is more than just a game for the athletes and coaches of the Maui Collegiate Baseball Club.

The sport and club provide young Maui County players an opportunity to take their physical and mental skills to the next level as athletes, as well as citizens and students.

“It’s about helping Maui baseball players that have the basic skills to compete in college, and we’re trying to help them prepare before they step foot on campus, to shrink that learning curve,” said Barry Takahashi, president and coordinator of the club. “While we have a good pedigree of baseball here, you may notice the trend in that more guys are traveling during the summer for select team or scout teams. … I specifically worked on this year making it all Maui kids, that doesn’t happen all the time.”

The Baseball Player Development Program trains and mentors the players in preparation for their college visit and showcase piece.

Takahashi is taking 14 to 16 players to Colorado from July 15 to 22 where they will play in seven games and visit four Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) college campuses: University of Northern Colorado; Metro State; University of Colorado, Colorado Springs; and Northeastern Junior College.

Coach Barry Takahashi talks to his players during practice at the Maui High School baseball field.

“What we aim to do up there is take videos we create for them, create profiles that would go online, promote them to colleges and schools and try to make that connection,” Takahashi added.

A team also is going to Arizona from Oct. 3 to 8 and Honolulu in December.

Takahashi makes the travel rosters based on players who have the “ability and desire” to improve their game. He also said he looks for speed, left-handed pitchers and power hitters.

“If you’re not one of those three, we try to develop one of those areas,” he said. “What we do as coaches is to try to clean up their biomechanics. … Overall, we just try to make it fun for the kids.”

Since last November, the Maui Collegiate Baseball Club has been organizing and planning the trips. They are also in the process of applying for grants to offset the travel expenses, Takahashi said, but in the meantime, the Colorado roster has been fundraising by selling cookies.

Tony Felice throws to third base during a drill.

The club requires its participants to maintain a minimum 3.0 grade point average in college preparatory coursework as well as display the physical capabilities and skills of the sport.

Additionally, Takahashi said that the program includes education on the college application process and NCAA certification, as well as how to apply for financial aid and communicate with college coaches.

“I learn a lot from them. I know way more than I did before,” Lahainaluna High School’s Kealaula Medeiros said of his coaches and mentors.

“They taught more things, endurance-wise, and keeping a good mentality.”

Before entering his sophomore year, Medeiros also wanted to “get more exposure in the Mainland.”

Medeiros

“I didn’t want to just stay here and keep playing and not getting anything out of it,” Medeiros said. “It’s a big opportunity because we get to go and play other teams and visit colleges. Other (college) coaches get to see us play.”

Upcountry coach Tante Sumibcay agrees.

“Formulating this league, this summer, was something really good,” Sumibcay said last week after a scrimmage. “We have a good mix of kids from Lahaina, Upcountry, downtown… . During the season, we get the rivalries — Maui High, Baldwin — this is a little bit more relaxed and a chance for everybody to come together and share in how we can all get better, and hopefully move on to the next step and play college baseball and get a degree.”

Sumibcay hopes that the college visitations will be a positive eye-opening experience for his son, Noah Sumibcay, who is entering his senior year at King Kekaulike High.

“Sending him there this summer will be a big step for him,” coach Sumibcay said.

Many former club players have played professional baseball in either affiliated or independent or affiliated teams. They include Dayton Alexander, who was drafted in the sixth round of the Major League Baseball draft by Oakland in 2011, and current Minnesota farmhand Ryley Widell, who was drafted in the seventh round by the Twins in 2017.

Gabe Gunter, Kingsley Ballao, and Mo Lau Hee all went on to college baseball.

Logan Kanamu — a current volunteer umpire for the club — and AJ Alexander both played for Na Koa Ikaika independent league team on Maui.

Kanekoa Texeira, a former Major League Baseball player for the Seattle Mariners and Kansas City Royals and current pitching coach for the Class A Rome Braves in the minor leagues, also helps coach the youths and provide insight to the game of baseball.

“Barry does a lot for Maui community and I thought (Maui Collegiate Baseball Club) was a great idea,” Texeira said via phone from Rome, Ga. “I just help the kids out when I can, just to see the kids get better.”

If there is leftover team gear from the Braves, Texeira said that he sometimes donates them to the Maui club participants. Overall, he offers the players expertise in high level baseball drills and routines, giving them a little taste of college workouts.

“It’s huge because some kids never get to leave the rock,” Texeira said. “They stay home where their competition is their neighbors or their classmates, and to be able to go overseas where kids will probably be bigger and stronger with more games under their belt, to see some new competition and some new faces, it will make you a little bit better. Going and seeing what the world has to offer for these kids, it will open their eyes and hopefully, give them a little more fight.”

Texeira is usually back on island from September to February, and a week here and there, to visit family and help coach the youths.

Kamehameha Schools Maui third baseman Konnor Palmeira joined the club when it first started, knowing that it would open opportunities for his baseball career. He was a Maui Interscholastic League Division I All-Star this past season and has verbally committed to play for the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

“I want to be here just to set an example to the younger kids, so they can come out and pursue their own college and get into college,” said the rising senior Palmeira. “Hawaii players play different, we compete. I think we’re going to do good up there (in Colorado). This is a stepping stone for us to go out there and show them what we got.”

* Dakota Grossman is at dgrossman @mauinews.com.