The other night ESPN cut away from SportsCenter to a Yankees-Royals game in the eighth inning. Alex Rodriguez was batting against Kanekoa Texeira. This was deemed must-see since A-Rod was going for his 600th career home run. But that became something for another day, as Texeira induced him into a routine grounder for an out.
So the 24-year-old reliever avoided baseball history on the side you don’t want to be on, a facilitator to an opponent’s milestone achievement and the answer to a trivia question. He’s not the server of A-Rod’s 600th. But those of us in Hawaii who follow baseball can associate Texeira with another number: He’s Maui’s third.
When Texeira joined the mix on opening day this spring with the Seattle Mariners (he was later waived and picked up by the Royals), the Valley Isle could claim three native sons as major leaguers. Phillies centerfielder Shane Victorino and A’s catcher Kurt Suzuki are the others.
That’s three big leaguers from an island with about 130,000 residents. One (Victorino) was a 2009 All-Star. Another (Suzuki) just signed a 4-year, $16 million contract extension.
Maybe not quite the status of the Dominican Republic or Samoa as an island hotbed for world-class athletic talent, but impressive nonetheless. Two in the big leagues from such a small place can be a coincidence. Three represents a trend.
Since Dane Sardinha was sent down by the Phillies, that leaves Mariners pitcher Brandon League, a product of Saint Louis School in Honolulu, as the only other current major leaguer from Hawaii. Even if Oahu gets half credit for Texeira since he prepped at Kamehameha’s Kapalama campus, Maui, indeed, is no ka oi.
EVIDENCE OF MAUI as a baseball haven is everywhere, not just in its disproportionate number of big leaguers.
Na Koa Ikaika of the independent Golden Baseball League is the state’s only pro sports team and calls Maehara Stadium in Wailuku home. In the 1990s, the Maui Stingrays consistently drew the biggest crowds in the Hawaii Winter Baseball League.
Maehara Stadium also hosted the state high school Division I tournament this year. Baldwin was pounded by Punahou in the title game, but the Wailuku public school has won four state crowns, including the first two.
Maui also is home to the reigning Little League state champions. Some of the players are back from last year’s team, trying to defend their title this week on Oahu and advance to San Bernardino, Calif., for the regionals and beyond. Maui teams have won the state championship six times.
Wally Yonamine, a Japan pro baseball Hall of Famer, was born on the Valley Isle.
TWO NAMES of men long gone come up the most when tracing the roots of Maui’s longstanding baseball fever.
Ichiro "Iron" Maehara is for whom the stadium is named. Some fans remember him as the scout who discovered Sid Fernandez for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he was much more than that to Mauians.
He developed Little League on the island, and as the Maui County parks director in the early 1970s, he pushed for the War Memorial athletic complex. If you’ve been to the facilities, you know there are few better in the state for baseball, football, basketball and track.
Paul Fagan was owner of the Pacific Coast League’s San Francisco Seals. In 1946, he brought the Seals to Maui for spring training. It was a successful and repeated venture and stimulated local interest in the game.
Maui County councilman Mike Victorino, Shane’s father, has lived on the island since 1972.
"A lot of (developing three major leaguers) is just timing and luck. The island has always had very good baseball programs and great players with lots of potential," he said. "It smells and feels and tastes like baseball here. It becomes a part of people."