Oregon baseball team has a little aloha
|||NCAA regional capsules|
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Stacy Kaneshiro
CORVALLIS, Ore. — Even before the Rainbows arrived here, this verdant college town already had a Hawai'i flavor.
Freshman reserve outfielder Koa Kahalehoe and sophomore reserve catcher Erik Ammon play for the host and top-seeded Oregon State Beavers (39-14), ranked between fourth and eighth by four different organizations, in this regional.
Kahalehoe was raised in Hawai'i and played his freshman year for Wai'anae High's junior varsity team; Ammon left the University of Hawai'i after his freshman season.
Like a number of Hawai'i residents, Kahalehoe's parents relocated to Las Vegas, where he lettered for three years at Durango High, earning all-state honors his junior and seniors years.
"It was hard for me leaving all my family back in Hawai'i," Kahalehoe said after a workout yesterday at Goss Stadium at Coleman Field on the OSU campus. "But I knew it was going to be best for me, as far as being in school and having an opportunity to go to a university."
Kahalehoe also was recruited by Texas Tech, Long Beach State, Brigham Young and Kansas, which also is in this regional. UH and Wright State complete the regional field.
"I just felt comfortable here," Kahalehoe said of his decision to choose OSU. "I got along with the coaches. They helped me out."
Kahalehoe started in 13 of 33 games he has played, batting .268 with no extra-base hits.
When Kahalehoe heard that UH was going to be in this regional, he was just as happy to find a link to his old home. He may not be in Wai'anae anymore, but that doesn't mean he's forgotten his roots.
"I thought it was great to (have a chance to be) around some local people, to get to talk to them. Get my pidgin back," he joked with no trace of pidgin.
Actually, Kahalehoe, whose parents are Albert and Jessica of Las Vegas, might want to brush up on his pidgin. He will return to O'ahu this summer to play for the Waikiki Surfers of the Hawai'i Collegiate League, he said. He said he will be living with other players in the league in an apartment, but might stay with relatives on weekends.
"I'll go back and spend time with some family, just have a little lua'u or something," he said. "It should be great."
Kahalehoe said he still keeps in touch with some of the Wai'anae boys he grew up with. Among his best friends, he said, is UH-Hilo freshman infielder/pitcher Clayton Uyechi, who graduated from Wai'anae in 2005.
Although not from Hawai'i, Ammon saw considerable action with the Rainbows last year, playing catcher and left field.
He played in 36 games, starting in 32, and batted .255 with a .427 on-base percentage. While some players elected not to return to UH this season because of issues with playing time, that wasn't the case with Ammon, who is from nearby Salem.
"I enjoyed the coaches, players, fans," Ammon said. "I just had to go back home. It was hard. There were personal reasons."
Ironically, he entered a situation where there were established players at his positions. His playing time has been limited to 15 games, four as a starter. He is batting .357 (5 for 14). Starting catcher Mitch Canham is batting .302 and is second on the team with seven home runs and tied for second with 43 RBIs. And left fielder Cole Gillespie leads the team with a .370 batting average, 11 home runs and 50 RBIs.
"We're all competitors here, we all want to play," Ammon said. "I don't like sitting as much as I've been, but I also understand that Mitch is an outstanding player, an outstanding hitter and he's really developed into a good catcher. I just try to improve him by pushing myself. (And) Cole has just been the anchor of this team out in left field."
Still, Ammon was ecstatic when he found out the Rainbows would be in this regional. Phone calls were quickly exchanged between he and his former teammates on Monday, the day the regional selections were announced on ESPN.
"I'm excited to see these guys," Ammon said. "I just got off the phone with Dean (Turner) and Joe (Spiers) and we'll try to meet up tonight and hang out, reminisce a little bit."
Reach Stacy Kaneshiro at firstname.lastname@example.org.