After hitting .345 last year, hard-working senior Jonathan Hee has high hopes of a WAC title. The Rainbows begin their season with three games against UH-Hilo at Les Murakami Stadium Friday, Saturday and Sunday
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Jonathan Hee never set out to be a leader on the baseball diamond. In fact, given his choice, he might never have taken up the sport.
Perfectly happy getting rid of excess energy on the soccer fields near his Hawaii Kai home, Hee never gave baseball much thought as a boy until his parents signed him up with the Kalanianaole Athletic Club at the age of 6. His soccer buddies were playing baseball and suggested he give it a try. It was the first time he’d ever swung a bat, and though he found it to be a fun distraction, it wasn’t until high school that it became his focus.
“At the time, I didn’t want to play baseball. I was more into soccer,” says the senior infielder, who now finds himself in the role of instructing younger teammates. “I remember my granny ran the bases with me the first time I had to run bases at practice.”
Hee continued to grow in the sport and into his batting helmet, jokes his mother, Patti, and worked himself into becoming a KAC all-star. That work ethic would become a Hee standard throughout his high school and college years.
“He always had size working against him, so he always had to work to overcome that,” says his jovial mother. “When they were younger, the bigger boys could hit farther and do this and do that. I don’t think he felt it back then that he had to work harder, he just kind of did because he wanted to be as good as them.”
Though Hee now tips the scales at an athletic 180 pounds on his 6-foot frame, that wasn’t always the case. Throughout high school at Mid-Pacific Institute he was skinnier than most of his counterparts.
“We tried everything. We tried the poi, the milk, the meat and everything, but I told him it’s just because I’m such a bad cook is why he is so skinny,” laughs Patti.
Hee’s baseball career got an unexpected boost when his applications to Iolani and Punahou were rejected and he was accepted into a school with one of the state’s premier baseball programs - the Owls have won four state titles and played for five more under longtime coach Dunn Muramaru.
“I had no idea about the baseball program before I got there,” Hee says now. “Now that I look back at it, I guess I’m lucky I ended up there.”
After a decade of playing, Hee had built himself into a good glove-man who toiled at his craft but was still hampered by his inability to gain weight. Once again he was the skinny kid with questions surrounding his ability to put the ball into play on a regular basis.
“He did have all the skills; he just wasn’t strong,” says Muramaru, contradicting Hee’s assessment of his own ability. “He was skinny - kind of on the frail side; kind of gangly.”
Just as he had as a tot, Hee jumped at the chance to get in extra work. Once on the Mid-Pac team, he found another mentor of sorts in coach Wes Yonamine. The nephew of Nippon Professional Baseball League Hall-of-Famer Wally Yonamine worked with Hee while teammates hit the beach.
“Oh, he worked so hard,” says the former coach who is now an assistant general manager for Hawaii Winter Baseball East. “He would come to my office sometimes six days a week after practice or after games just to work.”
Even with the extra practice time, Hee’s size limited his hitting, but it was his glove work, a point of emphasis at Mid-Pac, that got him into games.
“He was a good defensive player. He could pick it at third,” says Muramaru, a 32-year high school coaching veteran. “That’s why when he went to UH I knew he could play defense, but I didn’t know if he could hit.”
But that is exactly what he has done. A year ago Hee was a second team All-WAC selection and returns as the team’s leading hitter after finishing with a .345 batting average - despite battling a shoulder injury that forced him to change his swing. The subluxed shoulder would also occasionally pop out upon hitting the old and unforgiving turf at Les Murakami Stadium.
“That sort of thing just aches,” says Muramaru. “You swing a certain way and miss the ball and it just aches, and you have to gather yourself and go back in. It wears on you, and it doesn’t really get any better. I can just imagine how hard it was to play.”
Following an off-season surgery, Hee says the shoulder feels better than it has in two years.
“I feel comfortable it’s not going to pop out while I swing,” he says.
Which is good news, because the 2008 version of Rainbow baseball will look much different from the one fans have been seeing for the past few years. Gone are big hitters Kris Sanchez - who led the team in average, home runs and RBI - as well as Justin Frash (.346), Brandon Haislet (.335) and Eli Christensen (.331). The starting pitching also took a hit with Mark Rodriguez, Ian Harrington and Tyler Davis - who combined to win 22 games for the 34-25
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