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‘The most Hawaiian guy in Rome, Georgia’

Proud Mauian Texeira having a blast in first year as manager of Atlanta Braves’ High-A team

Rome Braves manager Kanekoa Texeira talks with an umpire during the Braves’ 4-3 win over the Greenville Drive on May 28. Texeira, a former major league pitcher, is in his first season as manager of the Atlanta Braves’ High-A team. Mills Fitzner photos

Kanekoa Texeira calls himself “the most Hawaiian guy in Rome, Georgia.”

All it takes is one look at the manager of the Rome Braves to know that is true. After growing up on Maui, he is now an offseason resident of Molokai with his family of four.

“If you didn’t know I was Hawaiian, you’d be crazy to not think that this guy’s Hawaiian,” Texeira said via phone from his office in Rome, Ga., on an off day. “I represent Hawaii to the max. I wear everything local, I grew out my hair long just so I can look like Maui, tattoos and everything. I mean, I’m doing it all. I love Hawaii to the max and I will never leave.”

Texeira, 35, was born and raised Upcountry before attending Kamehameha Schools Kapalama and Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif.

He became the fourth Major League Baseball player ever from Maui, following Antone du Rego in 1924, Shane Victorino in 2003 and Kurt Suzuki in 2007.

Kanekoa Texeira, who retired as a player in 2016, started his coaching career as a pitching coach in Atlanta’s instructional league.

Texeira’s MLB career consisted of 49 games over the 2010 and 2011 seasons with the Seattle Mariners and Kansas City Royals. The right-hander finished with a 1-1 record and 4.66 ERA.

He continued to play in the minor leagues until 2016 when he retired and joined the coaching ranks in the Atlanta Braves organization.

“In ’16 I retired and then went to instructional league with Atlanta as a pitching coach, then in ’17 was sent to rookie ball as a pitching coach, spent ’18 in rookie ball as a pitching coach, and then in ’19 got sent to Low-A Rome as a pitching coach, and in 2020 we had that pandemic,” Texeira said with a chuckle. “Then in 2021, I became the manager of the High-A team in Rome.”

Now, he is in charge of players who are almost young enough to be his kids.

“It’s a heck of a time, man, it’s fun,” Texeira said. “It’s very cool, very different. I like it, though. Sometimes when you become a manager, kids might stay away from you because they don’t want to get in trouble and whatnot, but for some reason the kids I’ve got here, we have good communication and good relationships with each other.”

Kanekoa Texeira smiles with daughter Kealohi in this photo from 2019.

Through Monday, his team was 19-17 and tied for third in the South Division of the High-A East League.

“Every year I was a pitching coach I had a first-time manager, so they would always ask me questions and I’d shoot them my answer, so I guess the word got out,” Texeira said. “They decided to make me the manager. It’s real cool, you know, you get to oversee everything, but you’ve also got a lot on your plate, too. If something goes wrong, it’s not like you can blame someone else. You’re the guy in charge. … So far, we’re pretty good.”

Texeira is sharpening his managerial skills as he has remained in the game he learned on Maui as a kid.

“They understand the game, they understand that I played for a while, and did whatever I did,” he said. “I think they respect me and trust everything I say — I think that’s the biggest thing. Once you get a player’s trust as their coach, they become more coachable.”

Texeira played at Triple-A Gwinnett for the final three seasons of his career, two of those seasons being under current Braves big league manager Brian Snitker.

“I spent two years in independent baseball, I didn’t know if I was going to get another shot at it or go work in real life,” he said. “After that I was lucky enough to have Brian Snitker as my manager. It was 2014 and I used to pick his brain — he loved me and I loved him. It was awesome, we just clicked. … I had him for two years and it was just phenomenal. He told me, ‘You’re going to be a great coach one day,’ and I was, like, ‘Well, I hope so.’ “

Things have changed greatly since Texeira was drafted in the 22nd round out of Saddleback by the Chicago White Sox in 2006. He had previously been drafted in the 31st round by the Milwaukee Brewers out of high school in 2004.

“Shoot, the food, the paychecks,” Texeira said of the differences in the game now and when he was a young minor leaguer. “All that is a lot different now, these kids, they got no idea what it’s like. … It was peanut butter and jelly, bananas, apples. Now you got, shoot they get sirloin, they get salmon with rice, salads. They’re getting chicken breast, all this stuff.

“Sometimes they’ll complain, ‘Man, I’m tired of this food,’ and I tell them, ‘You guys have no idea, zero clue what it used to be like.’ Now we’ve got three buses on a road trip, it used to be one bus and everybody just stacked up together.”

Texeira, who spent time with six different MLB organizations, added, “I think kids are bigger, stronger, faster than when I was playing. I can definitely see that.”

When the University of Hawaii parted ways with baseball coach Mike Trapasso after 20 years on June 1, Texeira’s name immediately came up as a candidate to replace him. Texeira, however, is not eligible for the position because he does not have a four-year college degree.

“I am enjoying what I’m doing, but would I love to go coach UH? Heck yeah, you know, be home, bring back a local style, local kids,” Texeira said. “I signed to go there out of high school, but I never went because I wanted to go to junior college and get drafted quicker. Of course, I’d love to go there and help out and coach. It’d be a great experience for me and I think I’ve got enough knowledge to help kids get drafted out of there. Just to bring back the local kids would be great.”

Texeira keeps up with the recent success of Maui youth teams on the national and international stages.

“I read it every day, I read The Maui News app on my phone,” Texeira said. “Prideful as heck man, you know I haven’t lived on Maui for a while, but that’s where I’m born and raised and my heart’s there forever. I will never ever not call Maui my home.”

Texeira and wife Leo bought a house on Molokai during the pandemic layoff to be near her father, who was ill but has since recovered.

“We’re still in the county,” Texeira said. “Maui’s got a lot of talent and I would love to see it get more exposed. The kids on Maui keep doing their thing, keeping us on the map, every team in every sport. Period. There’s Mauians everywhere, representing worldwide.”

The Texeiras have two daughters — Kealohi, 3, and Kailana, who is seven months old.

“They keep me strong, man,” Texeira said of his family.

The Texeira girls are staying on the Friendly Isle as the Rome Braves still deal with COVID-19 protocols — Kanekoa Texeira is looking to a little bit of a break in the tight rules soon. With 35 of 38 players, coaches and officials for Rome already having their second vaccine dose, they will be at the required 85 percent threshold to lighten the protocols within a couple weeks.

Kanekoa talks with his wife and daughters via FaceTime daily.

“Hopefully I can sacrifice this year and then I will be home,” he said. “I will at least be able to be home for a couple months before spring training. This is a one-year deal every time. … I think this will help my career.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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