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Little League teams prepare for informal season

Players, coaches happy, thankful to be back on the field after long break

Players from the Central East Maui Little League Senior Division Braves team warm up at the start of practice Thursday afternoon at Kahului School. District III Little League teams at the Junior and Senior levels are scheduled to play an informal season after the high school and much of the youth league seasons were wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

KAHULUI — Tuesday will mark nearly a year since Davin Lewis played in the Senior League World Series championship game that his Central East Maui team won in Easley, S.C.

Tuesday will also be, weather permitting, a return to game action for Lewis and his Braves team in an informal season that has been pieced together by Maui County Little League volunteers after the Maui Interscholastic League season and most of the action in youth leagues around the county were wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic.

Lewis is scheduled to start his junior year at Baldwin High School next week.

“It feels really good because I haven’t been, like, throwing a lot,” Lewis said. “And it feels good to start throwing again to get in shape with my arm.”

Lewis said he missed the game “a lot because there was nothing to do. There was nowhere to go out to go hit.”

Davin Lewis flips a ball to Kuhio Aloy during infield practice.

After working with the county parks division on a plan to return to the field, Hawaii State District III Little League coordinator Ernest Delima explained the season in an email to The Maui News. There are three Senior (15-16) Division teams, all from Central East Maui Little League; and three Junior (13-14) Division teams, two from Central and one from Kihei.

Each league will play eight regular-season games ending on Aug. 31. Games will be played at Maui High and Eddie Tam fields.

“This is a very informal season with the focus being on participation,” Delima said. “We may try to do a small tournament the last week of August, we are still working on this and haven’t finalized anything yet.”

Kihei Little League recently started playing games at the Majors (11-12) and Minors (9-10) levels.

Delima credited the county parks department staff for helping get the teams back on the field.

Branson Cajudoy scoops a grounder.

“I wanted to acknowledge the work of the Maui County Parks Department, in particular Louis Webb and Lisa Almeida,” he said. “Both have been instrumental in working with Little League to get us back on the field.”

Lewis was able to do some work on the game he loves during the break that lasted more than four months — the Braves returned to practice just over a week ago.

“In my backyard I have a little (batting) cage, so I just hit in there most of the time,” Lewis said. “So when I’m not doing anything, I just go back there and hit.”

The Braves are loaded with talent from Maui’s deep list of teen players, several of whom have numerous World Series appearances at various age levels.

“It feels really good, you know, coming back with the boys, starting to get back in shape this upcoming high school season,” said Wehiwa Aloy, also a Baldwin junior.

Coaches Jamie Aloy and Leo Tomita watch a deep fly ball hit by Tomita on Thursday.

Aloy is the son of Braves co-coach Jamie Aloy, the former Baldwin and University of Hawaii standout who helped his son stay in shape during the hiatus.

“We had weights in our garage, so we just pumped that for like two months,” Wehiwa Aloy said. “Since then, the gym opened. Every day I swing the bat in the backyard of my house.”

Many of the players were aware of the arduous road it took to get permits approved and in place to play any kind of season this summer.

“We appreciate it a lot because probably most of us haven’t been really hitting or throwing often, so we’re thankful that we can start working hard,” Lewis said.

Wehiwa Aloy added, “It feels awesome, we get to hang out and just play ball.”

Branson Cajudoy, a Baldwin sophomore, said he was also glad to be back, although somewhat sore heading into the Braves’ third practice on Thursday.

“It’s kind of a thrill, but tiring because I haven’t done any conditioning over the quarantine,” Cajudoy said. “But I just love to get out there and start playing again.”

Leo Tomita, a career technical education teacher at Baldwin and also a Baldwin graduate, is the co-coach of the Braves with Jamie Aloy.

“We’re all kind of eager and I guess a little bit concerned and cautious at the same time,” Tomita said. “We definitely wanted to get these guys out here because they did end up losing their entire varsity season, but at the same time we’re also understanding that baseball is not the be-all and end-all of life.”

Tomita said the importance of the game goes beyond just the physicality of it.

“Physically, mentally and even socially, getting back together, I mean off the field they’re all friends,” Tomita said. “With social distancing and in quarantine they were actually probably more excited than normal just to jump out on the field.”

Jamie Aloy said he was just happy to be back in the coaching business.

Aloy was a key member of the 1995 Baldwin state championship team, hit better than .300 in all four or his seasons covering 194 games and compiled a 20-18 record as a pitcher in Manoa. He was selected in the 49th round of the Major League Baseball draft in 1996 out of high school.

He coached a CEMLL Majors team to the state title and semifinals of the West Regional in 2016.

“Finally, yeah, absolutely — it’s been awhile, actually,” the 43-year-old Aloy said. “This is probably the longest layoff I ever have experienced. In all my life, never as a player, for sure not as a coach.”

To get back on the field took “a lot of compliance, it was very tough actually. And I get it, they are trying to make sure they comply with all the guidelines and they’re going to make sure that we comply with all the guidelines.”

Aloy said he is grateful for the rigorous rules. All players arrive at practice in face masks and have their temperatures taken before they are OK to warm up on the field with teammates.

“Like I said, when we first talked, it’s about safety, especially with the kids involved,” Aloy said. “So, we’ve got to be as safe as possible before we do something like this. As much of a hassle as it is to go through all the procedures, taking temperatures, making sure it’s as safe as possible to have something like practice, I can only fathom how other sports like football and basketball are preparing. It constantly changes every day.”

Aloy wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, knowing the importance of the game to the players.

“I think it’s very important,” he said. “I think it’s healthy. I can only imagine what these kids were doing with all that time on their hands, especially being limited in actually doing things. … So, to have them get back out here and do what they’ve been doing most of their lives with each other, I think it’s very, very important.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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