Military families play ball, meet MLB ‘All-Stars’

Kansas City Royals pitcher Scott Barlow pauses to answer questions at the children’s baseball clinic that was held at Les Murakami Stadium.

Story and photo by Randy Dela Cruz

Sports Editor, Ho‘okele

An all-star team of Major League Baseball (MLB) players enjoyed a weekend stopover in Hawaii, Nov. 3-4, before traveling to Japan to engage in several exhibition games that are aimed to promote goodwill.

With Dec. 7 only a month away, a reminder of just how our country’s relationship with the Land of the Rising Sun has grown into one of honor and respect was on display at University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Les Murakami Stadium.

The itinerary for the players, while in the 50th state, included a couple of workouts and baseball clinics for children at the stadium, a tour of Pearl Harbor, as well as service appearances, such as participating in United through Reading, which is a program that unites military families facing physical separation by facilitating the bonding experience of reading aloud.

The brainchild of local businessman Duane Kurisu, who is also a principal owner of the San Francisco Giants, the MLB 2018 All-Star Tour with Nippon Professional Baseball reinforces the already strong relationship between the USA and Japan and is hoped to be an annual event with Hawaii positioned right in the middle.

“We want to make this a regular thing, so that their stopover is here,” Kurisu said. “We want to play games here before we go to Japan. That’s the big picture.”

The players involved in this year’s event included some big names in MLB and a few young prospects that are working their way to being a regular in the show.

Managed by former New York Yankees legend Don Mattingly, this year’s group includes many players such as homegrown pitcher San Diego Padres’ Kirby Yates, Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, Los Angeles Dodgers’ outfielder Chris Taylor, Washington Nationals’ outfielder Juan Soto and St. Louis Cardinals’ catcher Yadier Molina.

“I think they were quite enthusiastic,” Kurisu stated about the players’ response to join the tour. “There were a number of players that we would have wanted to come. Shohei (Ohtani) was high on our list, but he had surgery. And we would have loved to have Buster Posey.”

The idea for the MLB team stopping over in Hawaii before going to play in Asia, Kurisu said, came about when he was approached by Jim Small, head of MLB in Asia, three years ago, when an all-star squad was being assembled to play in South Korea.

While the tour to South Korea fell through, the idea of using Hawaii as a connection between MLB and Asia remained viable and strong.

“There is a lot of things that we (Hawaii) share in common with Major League Baseball,” Kurisu noted. “They wanted to do this. We invited (this year) children, probably a third, that come from underprivileged situations.”

In the future, Kurisu said he expects more service projects to come from MLB through the annual event, in addition to more things for fans to see and participate throughout the weekend.

One thing that Kurisu has in mind for next year is for the team to play in an exhibition game against UH.

“If that could ever happen in the future, we’re all for it,” said UH baseball manager Mike Trapasso. “It wasn’t meant to be for this year, but in the future, now you’re taking it to another level for our players.”

For Scott Barlow, a pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, being a member of the team was a no-brainer.

Barlow said he was playing Winter League Baseball in the Dominican Republic and jumped at the opportunity to come to Hawaii the minutes he was asked to join the club.

The 25-year-old pitching prospect said that he visited Hawaii when he was a child, and got to visit the USS Arizona Memorial, but going to the site now would have much more meaning to him.

“As a little kid, you don’t really get what really happened there,” Barlow shared. “But now, having a better understanding of it, it’s definitely important to pay homage to the (service members).”

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Category: Sports