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Further Review | Sports

Baseball where it belongs: with kids in the uniforms

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When he was at McKinley High School in the early 1980s, there was no reason to expect Brian Yoshii would become a baseball coach. He was a wrestler and a judoka, and played a little bit of football. But no baseball.

Then, four reasons came along. His sons.

Now, the 47-year-old Kaiser Permanente vice president is manager of the state champion Waipio Little League team. The 13 players and three coaches leave early Wednesday morning for the Western Regional Tournament in San Bernardino, Calif.

The winner there advances to South Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series.

But you already knew that, didn’t you? It’s hard not to, considering Hawaii teams — including Waipio in 2008 — have won two of the past five LLWS championships.

Yoshii isn’t promising a third title for Hawaii, or even that Waipio will make it out of San B’doo. Little League isn’t exactly the place for bold predictions and arrogant strutting. Yoshii doesn’t seem to be that kind of guy, anyway.

"I definitely have confidence in our team," he said. "They’re all very good athletes, solid players, and this has been their dream. I don’t know what the other states have, but I know this team will represent Hawaii well."

And what more can you ask for?

It would be wrong for us to put any extra pressure on 11- and 12-year-olds … we just want them to play hard, play together, play fair and have a good time. Go to Disneyland, win or lose.

A trip that ends a win or two short of heading further east should not be viewed as failure, by anyone. Still, we’ll be watching, and hoping. The impossible dream has proven possible twice now.

NAMES LIKE Dane Kaneshiro, Noah Shackles and Ty DeSa will become a bigger part of the Hawaii sports landscape for at least a week … or closer to a month if they get to Williamsport, and forever if they win it like the teams in 2005 and 2008. Vonn Feao, Michael Memea, Pikai Winchester, Tanner Tokunaga and their teammates secured positions in the annals of state history before they reached high school.

I think there’s more good to that than bad.

For a couple of weeks each summer, we give the sport back to the people to whom it belongs.

Baseball is, after all, a kids’ game. Not counting pros and college players, I can’t think of many adults who still play hardball.

After watching Little League games each August, tuning back in to the big leagues is strange. It’s like they’re borrowing the game from the kids, not the other way around. The players seem way too big for the field (even though it’s 1 1/2 -times larger). The grownups don’t look right in the uniforms, especially those with facial hair.

When a coach tells an 11-year-old something and he nods, I think "teaching and learning." When a coach tells a Major Leaguer something and he nods, I think, "Why didn’t he know that already?"

YOSHII NEVER FORGETS that the Waipio team is also playing for around 50 regular-season teammates who didn’t make the all-stars squad.

"For me, part of coaching is community service. You coach all the players, during the regular season. Not just the ones you think will be all-stars. Our job is to develop all of the kids," he said. "It was very hard cutting to 13.

"The goal is to make a solid team that will represent the community well."

History tells us more is often possible when youth baseball teams from Hawaii venture to the mainland.

But with athletes at this age, championships are a bonus, like double pepperonis on a pizza. And that’s a big part of what makes it fun.

Reach Star-Advertiser sports columnist Dave Reardon at dreardon@staradvertiser.com, his "Quick Reads" blog at staradvertiser.com and twitter.com/davereardon.

 

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