There are several certainties each minor league season.
There will be lots of games, there will be bus rides and every team will lose some players. Not in the sense of losing one’s wallet, but losing players in the manner of players getting traded to other teams, released due to poor performance, or season-ending injuries.
For those of us with Na Koa Ikaika Maui, we lost one of our own this week.
Keoni Ruth has been a big part of our success this year as we marched to the Golden Baseball League’s South Division first-half title. As our starting third baseman and three-hole hitter, Keoni has been a major contributor.
At third, Keoni showcased his athleticism every night, as he made all the plays required of a player manning the "hot corner." At the plate, he hit .299 with a team-leading 30 RBIs just over halfway through our season, and was 13-for-14 in stolen-base attempts.
Keoni joined us this season after three years in the San Diego Padres farm system where he ascended up to the Triple-A level. What he had been missing over the past couple of years was consistent at-bats and the chance to play himself into a groove.
With us, he got the opportunity to show up at the ballpark every day, knowing he was in the lineup, batting third, and it helped, as he quickly established himself as one of the top all-around infielders in our league.
In the clubhouse, he provided our team with calm and confidence, true assets when considering the amount of tight ballgames we have been in this year. With an athletic lineup that combines speed and execution to score runs, we have not been a ballclub that sits around waiting for a three-run homer. Keoni was a big part of our run production.
Seeing him walk away toward the parking lot outside our clubhouse at Maehara Stadium, after a full go-round of hand shakes and hugs, provided us all with a bittersweet moment.
It was a tough pill to swallow, as we were losing a huge component of our team. The great part of it was, Keoni had just been signed out of our league by the Philadelphia Phillies. They apparently had a need for an athletic, solid all-around infielder, and he was the guy they wanted.
The entire process happened quickly. Over the years I’ve seen many a player get the call, and move upward and onward toward the big leagues.
Last season I got a good view of it from a couple of different angles as a coach and a scout, when I helped sign Gered Mochizuki — currently our second baseman here on Maui — for the New York Mets. As a scout for the Mets last year, I got a call during our season informing me that the ballclub had a need for an everyday shortstop with tools in rookie ball. Gered, who happened to be playing for me at the time, fit the bill. Within hours, he was off on a flight to Tennessee to join the Kingsport Mets.
Friday was no different for Keoni. on Thursday, our manager Cory Snyder informed me that Keoni had received a call from a member of the Phillies’ front office expressing interest. When I woke up to a phone call from our left-handed reliever Kaimi Mead early the next morning, I knew something was up. Kaimi is Keoni’s roommate here on Maui, and he told me that the call came in.
Keoni had been acquired by the Phillies.
By the time 2:00 p.m. rolled around, I was at the stadium in our coaches’ office on our off-day chatting with Cory, when Keoni stopped by for his final good-byes. He was heading to the airport to catch a flight to Philly for a physical before his assignment within the Phillies farm system.
We have been blessed with incredible team chemistry this season, and a fair amount of success has come with it. Our guys enjoy playing together and it shows. We have released only one player this year, traded another and lost one to injury. That’s pretty good roster stability in a league where some teams have already been through nearly 40 players.
But this good-bye was a happy one. Keoni was back on track and we couldn’t be more pleased.
Brendan Sagara, a Leilehua and Hawaii-Hilo product, is the pitching coach for Na Koa Ikaika, Maui’s team in the Golden Baseball League.