Sunday, November 29, 2015         


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A bit of aloha in the heartland

By Brendan Sagara


You will never hear me complain much about what I do for a living. Getting paid to coach professional baseball is a privilege, and I have been fortunate to be in the game for as long as I have.

But spending several months a year more than 3,000 miles away from home can be a little rough at times. Each spring I jump on a plane and fly off to somewhere on the mainland and find myself needing to adapt to a different climate, a different city, new people and different food as well.

Finding my way around a new city is always a challenge. When I'm at home on Oahu in the offseasons, I don't need a map, or a GPS to get where I need to go. They are the same streets I've been driving since I got my driver's license at 16.

Now working in my 11th different home city, I am surely making good use of my GPS in Winnipeg this year. Finding my way around a big city was a little bumpy at first, as downtown Winnipeg is a maze of crisscrossing one-way streets.

The food in Canada that I've been eating is pretty much standard Midwestern fare. There is a decent-sized Asian population in Winnipeg, and there are several sushi restaurants and Chinese eateries and even Korean food spots scattered around. I've certainly made a few visits to those places. Even though it isn't quite the same as home, at least I get to eat some rice every now and again — and not the kind that comes out of a box.

In fact, our ballclub had a Filipino Heritage Night during our last homestand, since Winnipeg has a large Filipino population. Thankfully, they were also serving some Filipino food that night, so I sent out a clubbie up to buy me a mixed plate with pancit, lumpia and barbecue beef, and I enjoyed every bite. I was hoping for chicken adobo, or pork guisantes, but no luck. Being born and raised in Wahiawa, I've had my share of Filipino food in my day, tagging along to many of my buddy George Olivas' family parties and enjoying his family's cooking.

Our latest trip gave me a great reminder of home as well. Making the nearly 800-mile bus ride from Winnipeg to Kansas City on Friday night, Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon — it was a 15-hour drive — we were just looking forward to getting off the bus. As you can imagine, the temperature was a quite a bit warmer than in Canada, so stepping off a bus into the warmth Saturday was a shock to our systems.

But something about it felt like home to me. It was balmy in the upper 80s, and the sun felt pretty good against my skin. But what made the night feel a lot more like home was two of the players on the Kansas City T-Bones are from Oahu as well. Castle High School grad Reid Santos, who has pitched previously at the Triple-A level, is in the starting rotation for Kansas City. I never knew Reid before, but had a chance to chat with him briefly after our game, and found out he too was raised in Wahiawa. I had a Leilehua T-shirt on, so I guess it was a good conversation starter.

Playing first base for Kansas City was a player I knew well, Kala Ka‘aihue. Having spent the past few offseasons helping Lenn Sakata throw batting practice to Kala, his brother Kila and several other Hawaii pros, I've spent some time on the field with Kala, and was happy to see him playing.

On our side, a few of the players have Hawaii ties as well. Our closer, Jamie Vermilyea, pitched for me on Maui last season, while our left-handed starter, Isaac Hess, lived on the Big Island with his aunty last offseason. Big, young lefty Mike Williams was recruited by the University of Hawaii, but chose to go to school close to home on the East Coast before being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Andrew "Ace" Walker, our veteran right-hander from Alabama, has a brother who is stationed in Kaneohe, and has been out to Oahu before. In fact, just before we boarded our bus in Winnipeg, Ace walked around the clubhouse sharing some Hawaiian Host chocolates his brother had sent him from Oahu.

All in all, it was a very long, but good day for me. After sitting on our bus for hour upon hour, we stepped onto the field and hit three homers and got strong pitching performances from Isaac, Jamie and Aaron Hartsock on the way to a 7-3 win to open our series in Kansas City. Kala had some good swings at us, but thankfully for us, didn't hit any out of the park.

The combination of the weather, the familiar faces, and the reggae playlist one of our players blasted in our clubhouse after the game really made me feel a lot closer to home for one night. If my wife Michelle and dog Keiko had been there, it would have been complete.

Brendan Sagara, a former Leilehua and Hawaii-Hilo pitcher, is a veteran minor league pitching coach in his first year with the Winnipeg Goldeyes.

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