Baseball is back on the Valley Isle
High school players grateful for the opportunity to take the field in All Pono club league
KAHULUI — The crack of the bats, the snap of the mitts, the teams and umpires wearing uniforms, parents and fans looking on.
All of the elements of real baseball permeated around the Maui High School field Saturday morning when the Braves met the Royals in the opener of the All Pono Spring Baseball League.
To the players, this was Baldwin vs. Maui High. Actual baseball, albeit on a club level, had finally arrived.
Ben Zeigler-Namoa and Dylan Waite combined on the mound for a 1-0 shutout victory for the Braves. The two college baseball-bound lefties were impressive and glad to be playing the game they love.
“That’s very important,” Waite said. “Playing our last year, seniors you know, I thought we were going to have a season. Now, I’m so fortunate and grateful that the coaches and the mayor have put this all together. I’m very grateful for that, playing with the seniors feels like home, feels like a family again.
“I hardly slept last night because I was so excited.”
Waite said the APSBL season has him ready for college baseball. He said having his decision made for next year is huge — he is bound for Clark College in Vancouver, Wash.
“I’m stoked, I’m ready, the recruiting process is kind of hard,” said Waite, who is 6-foot-2, 170 pounds. “We’re so limited because we’re on an island, we cannot travel, we couldn’t do anything, so I looked over my options and I felt Clark College was the best college that suited me.”
Baldwin head coach Craig Okita is one of the coaches for the Braves, while other MIL head coaches are also in the mix for the six-team league: Sabers head coach Chase Corniel is coaching the Royals team made up of Maui High students; Mark Makimoto, the head coach for King Kekaulike, is coaching the Orioles team made up of players from his school; St. Anthony head coach Lionel Montalvo is coaching a combination team from his school and Seabury Hall called the Rays; Mo Lau Hee, the Kamehameha Maui head coach, is coaching the Angels squad made up of players from his school; and the A’s from Lahaina are being coached by Danton Hong.
Waite has seen his fastball top out at 87 mph “a couple times” recently and he caught the eye of several in attendance, including former Triple-A All-Star Joey Vierra on the Royals side of the field.
Waite is grateful to the Baldwin program, even though he will miss wearing the official marooon and baby blue of the Bears for the final two seasons of his high school career.
“Our coaches went up and beyond with us, they made sure everything was about the kids, that we become more mature as men and as baseball players,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot of life lessons through baseball and I’ve got to say, from these coaches, I’ve learned so much from these coaches.”
Baldwin was ranked No. 2 in the state by scoringlive.com in March 2020 when the season was shut down due to COVID-19 concerns. Four graduates from that team moved on to college baseball and this year they have five seniors, all of whom have made commitments to play college baseball.
“It’s really cool to be out here because we were actually supposed to have a season and we didn’t have it for the past two years,” said senior Lee Souza, who is headed to Yakima (Wash.) Valley College. “So, we didn’t really get to show ourselves, we couldn’t have states for two years in a row, again, but this league, it gives us like practice to go into college and all that.
“It does help, you’re not going to stay home, do nothing. You’re going to actually have something to do. Coaches provided this whole thing for us, I’d like to thank them, too.”
Maui High senior Keelan Yagi, the Royals catcher, is going to continue his baseball career at Simpson University in Redding, Calif.
Yagi was one of many who said being on the field Saturday was the best possible scenario as Maui’s COVID-19 numbers are currently too high to allow high school scrimmages under the Department of Education guidelines.
The All Pono Foundation, run by Jon and Maile Viela, is sponsoring the current club league, and the Maui Interscholastic League gave up its Saturday permits so the APSBL could play.
The games are set to continue on Saturdays at Maui High and Eddie Tam fields through the end of April and may continue into May.
“It’s very important to me because all our hard work and dedication throughout our high school years is right here,” Yagi said. “It felt great being in the competitive environment again, against Baldwin and Maui High, or against any high school team.
“It feels fantastic that I get to play with my teammates one more year and hopefully make my statement out here. It will keep me in shape and if anything it will make me better for college ball.”
Okita said that the league is absolutely essential at this point, especially for the psyches of the players.
“It means a lot for the kids, I can tell you that,” Okita said. “Speaking to Ben Zeigler this morning, he came here looking a little sleepy. I asked him, ‘What happened Ben? Did you sleep after midnight last night?’ And he said, his response was, ‘Coach, I was in bed at 10 o’clock, but I couldn’t go to bed. I didn’t get some sleep until 12 o’clock’ because he was excited about it. He knew he would be our starter the first game.”
Okita’s son Reyn is currently a freshman infielder at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore. After seeing last season called off and his son missing his senior season, Craig Okita was determined to get some kind of on-field action for the class of 2021.
“These kids are just excited to be out here playing, in their reactions and just in the way they move around,” Craig Okita said. “It warms my heart to see all the coaches out here — you can see that every team in our league is trying to do what they can to get their kids out here, as well.”
Hana has contacted Okita about possibly sending a team to play in the league in a couple weeks. Okita, the APSBL commissioner, said the more the merrier.
“We’ll try to coach them up and give them that experience that we didn’t have last year and we won’t have this year. And to also prepare them for next year, hopefully down the road,” Okita said. “I think that’s my objective here and I’m sure the other coaches feel the same way, kind of hit two birds with one stone — you get to send off your seniors and also get some playing time and reps in for your underclassmen.”
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org.