The next generation of Waipio's Little League team gears up for the states
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jul 23, 2010
If Kiha Akau had his way, he'd probably like to take down the blue and white sign that marks Kanoelani Field in Waipahu.
An assistant coach on the 2010 Waipio Little League team, Akau is adamant about keeping the kids focused on this week's state tournament at Pride Field in Barbers Point.
Unfortunately, the sign is an everyday reminder of the spoils that could come down the line should this year's team follow in the footsteps of previous Waipio teams.
"Home Park of the 2008 Little League World Champions," the sign reads. "Waipi'o Little League."
"To win one tournament is hard in itself," Akau said. "I don't want these kids thinking about that at all because it's a long journey to get there.
"I saw what (the 2008 team) had to go through to get there. They got stronger and stronger as they went on, but it still took some luck."
Akau watched his oldest son, Iolana, make a diving catch and hit a home run in the 13-2 win over Mexico to claim Hawaii's second Little League crown in four years (Ewa Beach won it in 2005).
Also there was younger brother, Kahoea, who now gets his shot at tasting the excitement of playing baseball on a national stage.
Waipio had to win its district to advance to the state tournament, which begins today, though Waiipio has a bye.
The winner of states—Waipio has won three of the past four—advances to the regional tournament in San Bernardino, Calif., Aug. 6-15. A victory there would put Waipio in the Little League World Series for the second time in three years and for the third time since 2002.
That's quite a lot of "ifs" just to make it to Williamsport, much less win it.
"It's such a long process," Kiha Akau said. "That's why I don't want these kids to think about that. They need to focus on this week and the first game (tomorrow)."
This age group is the oldest and considered the most prestigeous in youth baseball. It was first developed in 1939, held in 1947 and first televised in 1953. ESPN telecasts all the World Series games and recently began telecasting regional championship games that qualify teams for Williamsport.
Kahoea Akau only has to look at his older brother for a reminder of what it's like, but it isn't something the two often discuss.
"Little bit," Kahoea said, when asked if they talk about the experience. "He mostly tries to help me with all my baseball skills."
Kahoea isn't the only younger brother of a past Little League World Series champion on the team.
Shiloh Baniaga, a pitcher and outfielder, was 7 years old when older brother Shayne helped Ewa Beach win it for the first time in 2005.
"Being on TV and watching my brother," is what he remembers the most about the trip.
Kahoea and Shiloh have brothers that are constant reminders of past teams' success, but everyone on this year's team has ties with the '08 club.
"After the games (in 2008), these kids would play baseball with a tennis ball against the older kids," assistant coach Jason Heleski said. "They took their lumps but it was fun."
First baseman Ty DeSa is one of three returnees from last year's team that lost to Aiea in states. Central East Maui won the tournament to advance to the West Regional and is back to defend its crown.
DeSa feels this year's team is "more better all around," and won't let the pressure of living up to past expectations get in the way.
"You do feel a little bit of (pressure), but you try not to think about it," DeSa said. "Just go out there and try to play your best."
Manager Brian Yoshii is currently in California, but will be back when the team opens play tomorrow against today's winner between Aiea and Kawaihau at 1 p.m.
Central East Maui and Hilo play in the other game at 4 p.m.
The tourney is double elimination with the champion decided either on Tuesday or Wednesday.
State champs with Little League World Series participants in bold.
2005 West Oahu
2003 Pearl City
2001 Ewa Beach
2000 Ewa Beach
1999 Pearl City
1996 Pearl City
1992 Pearl City
1989 Pearl City
1988 Pearl City
1976 Pearl City
1974 Pacific Palisades
1972 Pearl City
1968 Pearl City
1960 Pearl Harbor
1958 Pearl Harbor