By Kristen Kumakura
Baseball is a staple here in the Islands, a sport as essential as rice on a local plate lunch.
Major League Baseball recently visited for a “Hawai‘i Workout” trip, the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa baseball team is gearing up for the 2019 campaign and, last summer, a squad representing Honolulu won the Little League World Series Championship. However, there is still more work to be done as far as growing the game locally and letting the world know about the 50th State’s potential as a headquarters for baseball in the middle of the Pacific.
Donny Kadokawa is the founder of Team Kado baseball and his goal is to help local kids become better baseball players to compete at the “next level,” while teaching them to be respectful and grow as well-rounded individuals. Besides coaching and helping the kids become better baseball players, Kadokawa wants to encourage players from Hawai‘i to get exposure at the national level.
“I was living in California for the past 20 years, and that’s one of the big reasons why I wanted to come back: to give the local kids that opportunity that we never had,” said Kadokawa.
Kadokawa organized a baseball camp for youth players to share in his experience and knowledge, and he hopes to pass down his love for baseball to the younger generation. In doing so, Kadokawa brings in Major League Baseball players to the annual baseball camp.
Camp attendees and their families were excited to meet and learn from former Dodgers and current Reds outfielder Yasiel Puig at this year’s camp. Kadokawa hopes that bringing players of Puig’s status and ability will help keiki realize that hard work does pay off.
“I think if these pro guys come back and show the kids that there is a chance, I mean Yasiel came from pretty much nothing to where he’s at today,” said Kadokawa. “That’s the stuff we want him to expose to our players. As long as you work hard, you keep that passion, and you’re motivated, then the rest will take care of itself.”
This is the Cuba native’s first time to Hawai‘i. He explained that he has completed his first hike here and is loving every second of the visit.
“I never hiked in my life. First time in Hawai‘i and first time hiking, and we’re going again tomorrow,” said Puig.
Besides enjoying the island, Puig says he loves giving back to the community and wants to let the kids know to never give up.
“You need to keep going and practice baseball, keep going to school, practice and practice every day, and saying one day God is going to bless you!” said Puig. “God gave me this opportunity. I’m from Cuba and I never expected to be in the United State and the Major Leagues.”
Kodey Shojinaga is a freshman at Mid-Pacific Institute, where he’s a member of the prestigious baseball program. As part of the camp experience, Shojinaga had the opportunity to engage in warm-up throws with Puig.
“I did not think I would have that chance (to throw ball with Puig), but it was a pretty amazing experience. Him throwing the ball compared to throwing with my teammate is a different aspect,” said Shojinaga.
Towards to end of his warm-ups, Puig decided to show off a little. The kids were all gathered behind Puig as he launched one over the fence from home plate. Some kids were jumping in excitement, while others couldn’t believe what they had witnessed.
Shojinaga has watched Puig throw opposing players out on television, but seeing it in person “was pretty impressive!”
“Some kids ask me teach them how I lick my bat,” Puig said with a laugh. “I can’t teach the kids that. I don’t practice to lick my bat, but the kids in Hawai‘i want to know why I lick my bat, then today is going to be the day.”
Kadokawa notes that the support of local businesses helped pay for airfares and hotels to bring in professional players so the attendees could take advantage of the rare experience.
Following the successful camp, Kadokawa says he is already planning for next year’s camp, and potentially more in the future.
“We’ve got a bunch of big-name pro guys now that have called us wanting to come to next year. So, hopefully it’ll be an every-year thing that we can do to help the local kids,” said Kadokawa.
Kadokawa also has a charity golf tournament on Friday, Jan. 12 at Pearl Country Club. Yasiel Puig will take part in th
e tourney and Kadokawa says that the funds raised through the effort will help youth players travel to the mainland so they can get exposure, and possibly get noticed for college scholarships.