How Hawaii became an unlikely powerhouse in the minor league

After the Honolulu Little League won the Hawaii State Championships earlier this summer, the players called coach Gerald Oda with a question.

The veteran captain, who coached the last winning team, quickly slowed his roll. “Hey, we haven’t won the regional competitions yet. Win that, then maybe we can start comparing.”

Two weeks later, Honolulu advanced through the Western District Championship to advance to the Little League World Championships in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Again, Oda was non-binding. “We haven’t won the world championship yet,” he reminded the 11-12-year-olds.

On August 28, Honolulu completed its dominant run through LLWS. The team went 5-0 in the US arc before beating the international winner of the Curacao arc 13-3 for the world championships.

It was perhaps the most dominant performance in LLWS history. Honolulu outperformed its opponents 60-5 in all six games. Four of their games ended with “Rule of Mercy,” including the title game. The team trailed only once in the entire tournament – they led Curaçao, 1-0 – and that deficit lasted only half of the game.

Players celebrate after Kekoa Payanal (15) of Team West Region of Honolulu, Hawaii, hit the first inning of the Little League World Series at the Little League International Complex on August 28, 2022, in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Joshua Bessix / Getty Images

The team even played without its manager for part of the tournament, with Oda missing the first three matches after testing positive for COVID.

“We had an amazing race,” the 54-year-old Oda told SFGATE. “We are very happy with these kids and proud of what they have accomplished.”

This was Oda’s second LLWS tournament in four years. Their 2018 Honolulu team was similarly impressive, going 5-0 and winning 3-0 in both the US Championship competition (over Georgia) and in the world title match (over South Korea).

Hawaii, the 40th most populous state, now has four LLWS titles: 2005, 2008, 2018, and 2022. Only California, the nation’s largest state, has more, with seven.

The 2005 West Oahu Little League win cleared the way for the Hawaiian players, and the momentum hasn’t slowed. Each new win adds more gas to the fire, lighting the way for other young players who want to follow in their footsteps.

“You really made a difference when [the 2005 team coach] Layton Aliviado, when they were the first team to win a world championship. You know like anything, you need something, a clue, to show that, “Hey, we can do this,” and that of course broke that ceiling that “Hey, we can play baseball well,” Oda said. ESPN Honolulu After winning this year. “When I first started my coaching career, the goal was to go to the Western District, and that was the goal, you know. Now, it’s not just to go to the Western District, but to go to win the World Championship.”

Team Hawaii 2005 from Iowa Beach, Hawaii, defeated the Caribbean team from Curacao 7-6 in seven rounds.  The team poses with the championship banner after defeating the Caribbean team during the Little League World Series championship game on August 28, 2005, at Lamad Stadium in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Team Hawaii 2005 from Iowa Beach, Hawaii, defeated the Caribbean team from Curacao 7-6 in seven rounds. The team poses with the championship banner after defeating the Caribbean team during the Little League World Series championship game on August 28, 2005, at Lamad Stadium in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Elsa / Getty Images

But that’s not the only reason why Hawaiian teams excel.

Matt Abana, a prominent pitcher at the University of Hawaii in the early 1990s, says Hawaii’s tropical climate is a huge advantage.

“The weather here is basically good for 12 months of the year, which is very good for baseball,” Abana tells SFGATE. He later played several seasons for the Seattle Mariners. “Hawaiian children are able to play year-round, which gives them the opportunity to develop their skills faster and at an earlier age. With more repetition, children are able to develop better coordination and body control. I think that’s a big part of it.”

Oda is quick to count on fellow coaches in the Hawaiian baseball community.

“We have a huge number of good baseball coaches across the state,” he says. “There are great coaches here at every level and in every area on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island. We can be fierce competitors, but in the end we all want the best for the kids. So we embrace the culture of everyone helping everyone.”

Hawaii also has a rich heritage in baseball, dating back to Wali Yunamin, a Maui native who became the first American to play professional baseball in Japan after World War II.

Oda explodes from the names of other “local boys” who made baseball fame: Shane Victorino. Kurt Suzuki. Benny my vaults. Mr. Fernandez. Colton Wong.

“I remember watching [former major league infielder] Oda remembers. “I thought, ‘Wow, here’s a young Japanese from Hawaii playing in the major leagues! “

But, there is no alternative: success breeds success.

“Without a doubt, the 2018 team laid the foundation for this year’s team,” says Oda. “These kids were eight years old when they watched the 2018 team win the championship. When we got home and got off the plane, some of the first people we saw were kids from the 2018 team. They brought the stadiums to the players and celebrated with them. Even before we left the tournament, [2018] Guys like Shun Yamaguchi and Mana Lao Kong will come to our practices and talk to the team.”

In 2018, members from Honolulu, Hawaii, celebrated after winning the 2018 Little League World Series 3-0 against the Asia Pacific team from Seoul, South Korea, at Lamad Stadium on Sunday, August 26, 2018, in the South.  Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

In 2018, members from Honolulu, Hawaii, celebrated after winning the 2018 Little League World Series 3-0 against the Asia Pacific team from Seoul, South Korea, at Lamad Stadium on Sunday, August 26, 2018, in the South. Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Alex Trautwig/MLB via Getty Images

As for comparing the two championship teams, Oda says it’s an impossible task.

“It would be like comparing apples to oranges,” Oda explains. “We had 13-year-olds in our 2018 team. (The class age was changed to 12 in 2019.) The level of competition was a bit different. So I can’t compare the two teams. Each is special in its own right.”

Oda says both teams in the tournament have embraced the challenge of being Aloha ambassadors on and off the field. Each player bought Oda’s motto “We > I”.

“As coaches, we always keep in mind that these are 12-year-olds,” he says. They were facing enormous pressure. But we tried to frame it a certain way and say to them, ‘Hey, you’re not here to be a star and show everyone how good you are. You represent Hawaii. You represent something greater than yourself. It’s about wanting to show how great our country is. This approach seems to work. It helps them be more focused and stay grounded.”

Although this year’s LLWS is in the history books, Oda has one last challenge for his team.

“We told the kids, we inspired the 2018 team. Now it’s your turn to do the same,” says Oda. “We have to help clear the way for future Hawaiian teams, whether they’re in Honolulu or on Maui or wherever.

“We need to inspire the next group of kids to dream big.”