Sports

Miyataki Preparing Young Vulcans for 2015 Baseball Season

January 14, 2015, 3:44 PM HST
* Updated January 14, 3:46 PM
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Kallen Miyataki no longer has the “interim” tag next to his job title, head coach of the University of Hawai’i at Hilo baseball program.

His task this season is very similar to the job he had last year: take a young baseball team and mold them into a competitive squad.

Miyataki, a longtime assistant under current interim athletic director Joey Estrella and former Vulcan player, had the interim tag removed on Sept. 4, over four months after the conclusion of the 2014 baseball season.

“As far as the interest, with the interim tag in front of my name, that put up some barriers until I had the opportunity to take that off,” Miyataki said, talking about its impact on recruiting. “It is what it is, but I feel that with what we brought in, it’s going to make a difference.”

The Vulcans return just seven seniors for the 2015 season, giving several newcomers some early opportunities to earn playing time.

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“What’s the surprise right now is that we’ve got a kid from Orange County, Phillip Steering, He’s battling with Keenan Nishioka. One of them will be the DH [designated hitter], but they are really competing right now, and as a true freshman, he’s got legit power,” Miyataki said.

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Steering, a graduate of El Toro High School, hit .346 in his senior season with nine runs batted in.

A key transfer to Miyataki’s squad is Michael Jenkerson, who played one season at Cal State East Bay. “I think Jenkerson’s gonna add quite a bit, and he’s gonna probably end up leading off for us,” said Miyataki, who expects the sophomore to start in center field when the season begins.

Cal State San Bernardino transfer Chris Terry, entering the UH-Hilo program as a senior, is expected to find a way onto the field. Miyataki expects him to push senior Samuel Kim for playing time at third base. Kim is currently winning the battle over Korin Medeiros, who projects to start the season in right field. Returning senior Jordan Murai is slated to start in left field.

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Miyataki believes that the strength of his team can be found in the starting pitching rotation. “Right now, we’ve got Jordyn Ah Chong, a returnee as a junior, and Jordan Kurokawa, also a junior. They are our 1-2 combination,” said the second-year head coach. “We’ve got another Jordan, Kumasaka, a lefty, starting at number three.”

Currently, returner Chris Hubocan is competing for the fourth starting position with freshman Eric Vega, a 5-foot-10 right-hander.

The road to closer Michael Slifer will now go through David Moody, who pitched for the San Francisco Seagulls last summer in the Golden State Collegiate Baseball League. Moody, a 6-foot-1 right-handed junior, was 2-2 in eight appearances.

Moody will take the set-up man role from Sheldon Shishido, who graduated last season.

UH-Hilo’s middle infield is slated to remain the same, with BJ Freitas starting at second base and Edison Sakata positioned at shortstop. Behind the plate, Sean Nearhoof will continue to get the majority of reps.

“I think, for us, we’re unpredictable,” Miyataki said of his team’s potential for the season. “Everybody talks about traditional baseball…I think for us, it’s that element of surprise. We are a team that will do completely opposite of everybody else.”

UH-Hilo will open its season with a 17-game homestand, starting Feb. 12 against Menlo College at Wong Stadium. The Vulcans will be on the road for nearly a month after that, and will close out the season with a 10-game home stretch.

Season tickets are now on sale. Tickets for the entirety of the 27-game home schedule are $40 for adults and $30 for seniors over 60 and UH-Hilo, middle and high school students. Game tickets are $5 for adults and $4 for students. Children under 12 years old are free.

Tickets can be purchased by calling 932-7603 or e-mailing [email protected]

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