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Families of Waipio sluggers happy for ‘once-in-a-lifetime experience’

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    Matthew Campos (No. 8), Kaho'ea Akau (2), Noah Shackles (22) and Keolu Ramos (24) celebrated Waipio's 10-0, mercy-rule victory yesterday over Pearland, Texas, to claim the United States championship at the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa. "Just winning a title in any possible way is great," said Waipio manager Brian Yoshii. Waipio faces Japan today for the world title.
  • Texas
    Lana Akau, center, cheered after Waipio scored in the first inning yesterday against Pearland, Texas.
    In a photo made with a fisheye lens, Waipio fans celebrated after the 10-0 win.
  • mercy-rule victory yesterday over Pearland

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. » The thought had crossed Stanley Asato’s mind before.

The gentleman was getting ready for retirement from the post office after years of service as a letter carrier.

He always enjoyed watching baseball, especially his grandkids when they stepped on the diamond.

The opportunity to possibly travel to the Little League World Series was on his mind. Asato knew the Waipio Little League team, with his grandson Dane Kaneshiro on it, had a legitimate chance to make the spectacle in Pennsylvania.

In April, Asato made a decision.

"I was thinking about retiring a long time ago," he said. "When I heard about the chance of coming here, and seeing this kind of atmosphere, I said to myself, ‘Get out, and go. Go experience it.’"

Asato is one of several members of the Waipio contingent at the Little League World Series. And each one uttered similar statements.

"We are so happy and fortunate that we have the right chemistry of kids and parents," said David Campos, whose son, Matthew, had a long home run in a victory against Ohio earlier in the week. "As a whole, we were fortunate to come on this long journey."

For the families, it has been an interesting journey to say the least.

Most have been away for nearly three weeks to a month, going from the Hawaii state tournament to the west regional in San Bernardino, Calif., to the long trip across time zones to Pennsylvania.

"It’s tough because of the financial aspects and that you are away from home for so long," father Troy Kaneshiro said. "But this really is a lifetime experience for the kids, the coaches and the parents. The sacrifice they put in to be here is worth it for them. It’s wonderful to be here, watching the boys play."


Waipio vs. Japan, at 9 a.m. today:

» TV: KITV, Ch. 6
» Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM

For each, the Little League World Series has provided a different memory, aside from the glamour of the event itself.

For the Kaneshiro family and proud grandfather Asato, it was watching their son and grandchild step on the mound in Wednesday’s game against Hamilton, Ohio.

"All I tell him is to take his time because it gives me time to calm down myself. Take your time on the mound, I tell him," Asato laughed.

For the Campos family, it was watching their son’s smile as he ran around the bases on that all-important home run against Ohio — the lone Waipio hit in a 6-4 victory.

"I almost cried because it was such a great moment," David Campos said. "I was happy for him and the team. Who knows what would have happened without that spark? It was something that he wanted. He wanted a great hit.

"We talked prior to that game. I told him to go back to the basics and remember the good times when he was hitting well. It was beautiful. I just wanted him to have a great hit and make great contact."

For two families on the team, the Akaus and the Baniagas, this is the second time they’ve reached the LLWS.

Iolana Akau was a member of Waipio’s 2008 world championship team, and Shayne Baniaga was part of West Oahu’s title run in 2005.

For the remainder, though, this is everything they’ve heard and read about.

"It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said Daphne Kaneshiro. "It’s a great experience for our boys and also for our younger son."

While it’s all about baseball in South Williamsport this week, the Waipio "family" has expanded on it.

They’ve made friendships at the LLWS.

"We are just caught up in the moment right now," Daphne Kaneshiro said. "Right now, we’re just excited for the weekend. In the end, it’s going to be sad to leave Williamsport. We’ve developed new friendships out here with other families, and we’ve also made friendships with people from Maryland. That’s special, and part of the atmosphere."

They’ve experienced the local culture of Pennsylvania, including meeting with some of the Amish in the community.

"We got to see their way of life, and how they live," Troy Kaneshiro said.

"We had an idea of what their life was like, but it was very educational for our younger son to see that and see what another group and family lives like," Daphne Kaneshiro said.

For Asato, it was about the sights and sounds.

"And the hills," he laughed. "When they say God’s country, it really is. The hills are a change. Everywhere you go, you seem to be walking up and down hills. As long as you get to the top, you can get back down. I have no regrets. If I could do it again, I would be the first one to buy my ticket to come here."

More importantly, each one is quick to point out how thankful they are to their family and friends watching from afar.

"From what we’ve heard, Gov. (Linda) Lingle has started a fundraiser for us, and we are grateful for that," David Campos said. "We just want to thank everyone in Hawaii for their support. I’ve received a lot of texts of support from my work, our friends and families and our old friends. This experience, it’s unbelievable. This is the pinnacle of baseball. We have a good baseball program in Waipio that has a lot of good guidance, coaching and parents. We’re very fortunate for that."


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