The boys of summer aren’t going anywhere
Hawaii may be an island paradise full of sun and surf, but these boys from West Oahu are baseball players through and through, and they’re storming through Williamsport.

By Allie Weinberger

There have been 29 players in Major League Baseball history to come out of Hawaii.

At South Williamsport, there 12 more just waiting to break through.

Ewa Beach is just the ninth team in 58 years of the Little League Baseball World Series to visit Williamsport from the Aloha State.

“Right now, I don’t think they really feel it, but what I heard back home is really everybody’s watching,” said West Oahu Little League manager Layton Aliviado. “From every island and people from the mainland. I don’t think they know the impact, but I know [the kids] know that it’s a big deal.”

And it is a big deal. These Hawaiian hotshots are just the third team from Hawaii to make it out of regional play as the Northwest champions in the past 30 years. And with an 11-0 record heading into the 2005 Series, these ballplayers – and their bats – are looking good.

“[Hawaii baseball] is real different than mainland baseball,” said Hawaii first baseman Layson Aliviado. “Cause they look not too good, but they can rip. We look small, so people think that we’re weak, and so they take us lightly.”

But West Oahu is 4-0 in tournament play, outscoring opponents 26-4 over 23 innings. The Northwest champs will take on West coast powerhouse Vista Little League and its lineup of California sluggers in the U.S. final Saturday afternoon.

But is Hawaii – a paradise of sun, sand and surf – really any good at baseball?

“I guess a lot of people think that Hawaii is just a lot of surf,” explained the manager. “We’ve got a lot of surfers, but in Hawaii, sports are heavy.”

“We actually have Hawaii players in the major leagues right now,” added one West Oahu slugger.

Major League heroes
They don’t want your John Hancock. They want your Barry Bonds.

The West Oahu boys may not know all the Hawaiians of Major League Baseball, but they sure know some great major leaguers. According to Aliviado, the boys choose their favorite team by who the ballclub’s sluggers are.

“If there’s a home run hitter,” Aliviado said, “they like him.”

Cubs pitcher Jerome Williams found out who the island boys idolize in Wednesday night’s conference call.

“Can you get me Derek Lee’s autograph?” one of the boys asked.

“Derek Lee? He’s a good friend of mine, I can get you D. Lee’s autograph,” Williams said.

Then, the flood gates opened.

“How about Nomar?” one chimed in.

“Yeah, Nomar,” they all pleaded.

“You know what?” said a chuckling Williams. “I’ll get all you guys a team ball for everybody.”

But that wasn’t enough for these big-thinking ballplayers.

“Can I get Barry Bonds, too?” one boy continued, amid a chorus of laughter.

“Barry Bonds?” Williams said. “I don’t like him. Nah, I’m just playin’, I’m just playin’.”

But the barrage of requests just kept coming.

“Are you gonna see the Braves again?” one player asked.

“No we’ve played the Braves already. We just play them now, but our next game’s on Friday against Florida,” said Williams.

“Well, can you get me Dontrelle Willis?”
And one of those major leaguers, Cubs pitcher Jerome Williams, took a real interest in these island boys.

“Aloha,” said a voice from a black speakerphone surrounded by a team of Hawaii 12-year-olds.

It was Williams, a Honolulu native, calling to wish his Hawaii team luck and offer some last minute advice.

“Keep on playing and don’t even worry about [being nervous],” Williams said. “Just think about [the U.S. final] as a normal game and just don’t even think about it. Go out there and play hard, play your best, and then at the end, if you guys are up, you guys win. That’s it.”

So what makes Hawaii baseball so strong?

“For baseball, the weather is year-round. The reason why we got a lot of good talent in these boys is that a lot of people play year-round baseball in Hawaii,” said Aliviado.

But the boys know it’s more than that.

“We play from the heart, because we’re so small,” said the Hawaii first baseman and coach’s son.

Baseball practices in Hawaii are a whole different beast than the practices of mainland teams, the boys claimed. There is one thing in particular the players say they do a lot more of than any other team they know.

“Running,” said the boys in unison.

And what do they do after practice?

“We run more,” they agreed.

Aliviado runs a strict dugout and schedules two to three hour practices six day a week.

“We practice every day, every day but Sunday,” said right fielder Ty Tirpak. “We do it till we can’t see anymore.”

Guys who choose to play for Aliviado know they know will be practicing a lot.

“I just tell them straight,” the manager said. “If you’re on my team, you’re gonna do a lot of practice. If you don’t like it, play for somebody else.”

Practices during the week start at 4:30 p.m. and continue through nightfall. And in the hot Hawaiian summer, the sun doesn’t set until 7:30.

“Like I tell the boys,” Aliviado said, “hard work pays off. They realize that, being here at Williamsport.”

Practice is very important to the West Oahu skipper.

“You need a lot of practice, because there’s a lot of stuff you gotta learn,” he explained. “A lot of small stuff here and there, strategies and all the fundamentals.”

Aliviado isn’t shy about his method for success. And why should he be? It works.

“Once the season starts, we go two weeks with conditioning,” Aliviado said. “We don’t throw a ball, we don’t hit balls, we just do conditioning. And a lot of drills – cone drills.”

After that, Hawaii moves on to the basic fundamentals of the game. Only after that do they begin to work on hitting and pitching. Once the season starts, the players focus on defensive work through live game situation.

But to get the hot bats the Hawaii hitters have up and down the order, they must do a lot of batting practice.

“That’s what we do everyday,” Aliviado said.

The skipper’s motto is “work hard, play hard,” and that’s exactly what these Little Leaguers do. But how can Aliviado keep them off the beach and on the diamond?

“Well, we’re used to [the distractions],” said ace pitcher and star slugger Alaka’i Aglipay.

Though the kids say they don’t go to the beach a lot, they also admit they probably would if not for baseball. And sometimes, they don’t want to do either activity. Sometimes, they just want to stay at home and sleep.

To Aliviado, though, his home in paradise is actually an asset to his club, not a distraction.

“The beaches and all that is a plus,” he said. “On the free day, you can relax and go to the beach and not think of baseball. Just go to the beach and relax, surf, get some sun, swim, body surf. So I think it’s a plus having beaches and sun.”

Slugger Vonn Fe’ao can put his finger on why the West Oahu players stick with it through grueling practices in the Hawaii heat.

“We’ve been together a long time,” he said. “We wanna win.”

And they are on certainly their way here in Williamsport.

“We hit better [than mainland teams], and we don’t strikeout,” said catcher Michael Memea.

The Hawaii players also chalk up their success to aggressiveness on the bases.

“Hawaii teams, they seem like they’re more aggressive than the teams out here on the mainland, especially on passed balls,” said Tirpak. “In Hawaii, everybody’s going, but here they kinda hesitate a little bit more.

“I think everybody practices that in Hawaii, that’s just one extra way to score,” continued Tirpak. “It really is [a big help in the Little League World Series]. We steal a lot of bases on little bobbles and passed balls, so that will help us get to the next base. If the guy [at bat] gets a base hit, you could score rather than just getting to the next base.”

The pitching of Hawaii squad as a whole is also stellar, and Williams was the perfect person to give the young staff some good advice.

“You give up a home run, you give up a home run. So what?” he said. “You gotta give up home runs. You give up home runs and you’re gonna have errors out there.

“As a pitcher, guys make errors. You can’t get mad at them. All you gotta do is pick them up, go along, throw your pitch, make good pitches and get them out. That’s all you have to do,” he added.

Williams also knows that this Hawaii team has a great a coach behind it. How? Well, Aliviado coached Williams back in Hawaii Pony League in the 1980s.

“I coached Jerome and my oldest son played with Jerome. Me and Jerome’s dad coached together, coached our kids,” said Aliviado. “I feel old.”

But the kids aren’t necessarily aware of the Hawaii talent in Major League Baseball right now.

“They know some of them, not all of them,” said their skipper. “But I think they realize that coming out of Hawaii, it’s harder to make the major league. We’re far away and we’re just islands, so they don’t notice us as much. But when the scouts come down, they realize that Hawaii has a lot of talent.”

What the players don’t understand is the impact their success is having on Hawaiians everywhere. But Aliviado is working on that.

“We get a lot of emails from all over the mainland and Hawaii,” said Aliviado. “And what I do is I give every kid one email, and then they read it to the team before we go to sleep. Before we say our prayer, they read the emails from all the people all over the world.

“We don’t know the impact back home, but they say the impact is real good,” he added.

Aliviado and Williams both understand what the Hawaii team is doing for the islands while they are here in Williamsport.

Aliviado also knows the other teams underestimate the strength of his team’s force.

“I think they figure that we’re just a bunch of surfers, a bunch of boogie boarders, and they don’t realize that because of our weather, we have a lot of talent,” he said.

But four teams have already lost to the West Oahu Little Leaguers, and Little League squads are learning to take Hawaii seriously the hard way.

“Because [West Oahu] is a growing community, the league is growing,” said Aliviado. “I figure in the future, West Oahu should be back here.”

So are the guys in the Cubs clubhouse going to be watching the island All-Stars in this weekend’s final?

“You know what, I’m gonna make them watch,” said Williams during Thursday night’s conference call. “I’m gonna make them watch because Hawaii’s the real deal. I mean, Hawaii’s been on the map since day one, but nobody really knows about Hawaii baseball because we’re so far away from the mainland.

“You guys are representing Hawaii in a good way,” he continued. “And I’m gonna make these guys watch you guys play and see how we play back at home.”

So maybe there isn’t any magic to Hawaii’s success. Maybe West Oahu is just the team no one expected.

“We take every team seriously, and we just hope for the best and do what we have to do to win,” the manager said. “We just stay humble.”

Humble or not, Hawaii’s success means a lot to the islands. Maybe these 12 players don’t quite realize it yet, but one day they just might.

Aliviado certainly does.

“You know what?” he said. “I think it would make history.”

2005, Little League Baseball Incorporated
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