This time, Maui's eligible and eager
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Stacy Kaneshiro
If there is one team that can appreciate playing in this week's Wally Yonamine Foundation Baseball Tournament, it is Maui High.
It's not only because the 12-team tournament will be played on the Valley Isle at Iron Maehara Stadium in Wailuku, starting tomorrow. It is because the Sabers understand it's a privilege, not a right, to be there.
Last year, Maui qualified for the state tournament but withdrew when it was discovered a player forged grade checks to maintain his eligibility. The Sabers had to forfeit seven games in which the player participated during the Maui Interscholastic League season; the MIL declined to send a replacement, leaving the state tournament a team short at 11. The withdrawal came two days before the tournament opener.
"It was a big lesson for us," Maui coach Lee Yonamine said. "I don't think (the underclassmen) felt the hurt as much as the seniors, but after hearing from the principal and the coaches, they learned how important or how big it was to get into states. It's a privilege to be there. Only 12 teams get to continue with baseball and you're one of the few to make it."
The player who cost the Sabers the tournament appearance has returned to the team, and is a starter. Yonamine declined to reveal his name.
"To me, I believe in second chances," Yonamine said. "You make a mistake, you can become a better person from a second chance and make the best of the opportunity. I think that in time, as far as for us this year, it made us better because the kid really turned it around. He was more of an individual last year and now he's more of a team player."
Yonamine said the player apologized to the team last year. Then he surprised everyone when he decided to try out again. Yonamine spelled out what was expected of him and his parents.
"I told him, 'It's not a matter of you playing or not. It's a matter of you being eligible. If you go into the same situation where you go on probation again, then you're showing me you haven't learned. It's not right for you to participate until you show me that you're passing.' He had the chance last year. He's buckled down."
The player has not been on academic probation this season, Yonamine said.
Still, he had to earn the respect of his teammates. To their credit, Yonamine said, they did not treat him as an outcast.
"That was good on their part," the coach said. "They tried to help him along a little. It could've been hard for him if they gave him the cold shoulder, not talk to him."
It has been an interesting season for the Sabers, who encountered more adversity when five players were suspended for two different off-field incidents, leading to two players quitting, Yonamine said.
Then the Sabers' journey to the state tournament nearly stalled against Kamehameha-Maui in last week's playoff for the MIL's second state berth. Trailing 3-0 and being no-hit after six innings, the Sabers scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh for a 4-3 victory.
"Just making it to states was an accomplishment for us," Yonamine said.
Seven Moanalua High seniors face a dilemma this week. If Na Menehune advance to Friday's semifinals, it will clash with graduation ceremonies.
"I left it up to the parents and kids," Moanalua coach Scott Yamada said. "I feel it's a family decision and not my call. I told the other players in the past you have to respect that because there are two things in life you won't get to do again: go to states and graduate."
Knowing of the predicament as early as last year, the players and parents made up their minds even before the season started, Yamada said. If Moanalua advances, the players will stay on Maui. Ironically, senior Markus Miyashiro's mother is head of the school's Project Graduation, Yamada said.
However, if Na Menehune lose before the semifinals, arrangements have been made for seniors who wish to return to O'ahu to participate in commencement, Yamada said.
Two-time defending state champion Punahou beat Kailua, 3-1, in last year's title game at Les Murakami Stadium.
The two are paired in tomorrow's first round at 4:30 p.m.
Reach Stacy Kaneshiro at email@example.com.