Chace Kekoa Kenji Numata played in more than 500 professional baseball games and had more than 2,000 plate appearances in a 10-year career, but it was the infectious smile and buoyant personality that registered the biggest impact.
“If you took a poll of the guys — who is your favorite teammate — it would be Chace Numata, 25-0,” Erie (Pa.) SeaWolves hitting coach Brian Harper told the Detroit News after Numata died Monday in Erie from injuries suffered in a skateboarding accident early Friday morning. “If you took a poll of the staff, it would be 8-0.”
Numata, 27, was a switch-hitting catcher for the Double-A farm team of the Detroit Tigers.
A 2010 graduate of Pearl City High School, Numata was an All-State utility player and helped the Chargers to the 2010 Oahu Interscholastic Association baseball championship.
According to reports based on video camera footage, Numata’s skateboard suddenly stopped as if it had hit something, causing him to fall headfirst to the ground. A passing motorist summoned police, who found Numata unconscious and bleeding from the head.
”He had an engaging personality that quickly established him as a leader on and off the field, and his presence will be forever remembered in our organization and beyond,” the Tigers said in a statement. “We had him up (with the major league team) in spring training,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire told the media. “It is a tough one for the organization. Really tough.”
In addition to the Tigers, Numata also spent a year in the New York Yankees system and eight with the Philadelphia Phillies, all of whom mourned the death of the one they called “Numi.”
Pitcher Logan Shore of the Tigers organization tweeted, “Numi is the most genuine, kind-hearted and loving person I have ever met.”
Isiah Gilliam, an outfielder in the Yankees system, tweeted, “During road games, we lived together for about two months. Words cannot describe how blessed I am to encounter a spirit like yours. You were the heart and soul of our locker room.”
The SeaWolves, who ended their season Monday, paid tribute to their teammates by playing his favorite songs in the clubhouse and writing his name on their hats.
Numata hit a combined .244 this season in time with the Tigers’ Triple-A and Double-A teams and .251 for his pro career.
In high school the versatile Numata was at his best in helping to lead the Chargers to the 2010 OIA championship, the school’s fourth in a row.
As a shortstop he drove in a run in the 4-1 quarterfinal victory over Moanalua. The next day, in a 3-2 semifinal triumph over Mililani, Numata made four assists in the first three innings.
Then, in the sixth inning, he went to the mound in relief of his brother, Chevas, with two men on base and one out and retired the side without giving up a run. In the seventh inning he struck out the side on 11 pitches to preserve the victory.
In the 4-3 championship game victory over Campbell, he turned a pivotal double play in the first inning and went to the mound in the seventh inning to bail the Chargers out of a bases-loaded situation and secure the victory.
Numata had planned to attend Central Arizona community college until the Phillies made him a 14th-round pick in the June 2010 MLB draft.
“You made the world a better place and, now, you just made heaven an even better place to be,” Numata’s agent, Matthew Gaeta, tweeted.