The Best Summer League?

Bobby Curran
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Friday - July 02, 2005
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Some of the distinctive sounds of summer are those of a baseball thudding into a leather glove and the sweet contact of a ball with a wooden bat. For those who are near despair with the conclusion of the College World Series, it is time to rejoice.

The simple pleasure of everyday baseball has come to Aloha Stadium with the inaugural season of the Hawaii Collegiate Baseball League.

Owned and operated by the non-profit Hawaii Youth Sports Foundation, the stated goal is to “provide a constructive environment for collegiate baseball players to enhance skill development and marketability in preparation for a professional baseball career while providing exposure for Hawaii youth players to the collegiate coaching network.”

The man charged with organizing and running the league is very familiar in Hawaii baseball circles. Al Kam has been coaching in college or high school for Some of the distinctive sounds more than three decades and currently assists Vern Ramie at Kamehameha.

“We wanted to see if we could put together a high-quality league with elite college players,” says Kam. “When you look at the programs we’re drawing from, it’s an impressive list.”

It is indeed.

There are players from the PAC-10, WAC, ACC, Mountain West, WCC, Big West, Atlantic 10, Ivy League and a host of lesser- known conferences. The players are distributed among four teams and double headers are played at 4 and 7 p.m. every day except Monday.

“They are playing great baseball out here,” says Kam. “It really is at a very high level.”

The secret to the success of the league is player satisfaction. Players talk, and when they return to campuses they’ll be comparing their experiences with teammates that have played elsewhere.

Many of this year’s players are veterans of other summer leagues.

Chris Minaker, 21, is the starting shortstop at Stanford and one of six Cardinal players spending the summer in Hawaii.

“There’s no comparison between how you’re treated here against the other leagues,” says Minaker, a veteran of the Great Lakes Summer League and the Alaska League. “They put us up at the UH dorms, we get a free breakfast every day and a meal after the game. That’s unheard of. They really look after you here.”

Minaker appreciates the chance to get at-bats and work on his mental approach in the summer. “I love the competition, and it’s very strong out here.” No surprise that Minaker’s goal is to someday play in the big leagues.

Blake Sharpe, 21, a senior to be at Southern California, is one of eight Trojans in the league and finds much to like about the way the organization is run.

“They really make it nice here,” says Sharpe. “Last year I played in the Cape (Cod league) and was put up with another player hosted by a family. When he left with the car, I had to rely on these people for rides. Here they pick you up in vans and shuttle you back and forth. And we get to work out in the UH weight room. It’s awesome.”

Sharpe also likes the schedule.

“When we play the late game we can hit the beach for a couple of hours, and after early games we can go to Waikiki. The baseball is great, and I’ll tell everyone it’s really first rate.”

With player satisfaction so high, the league will draw even more talented players in the future. For spectators, it is one of the great values in sports. Admission is two bucks, free for kids under 11 and there is plenty of parking. And if you can’t make it to the park, follow the action on KKEA 1420 AM.

Play Ball.

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