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How Little League's history in Hawaiʻi influences Honolulu's team ahead of championship game

LLWS Parade Baseball 2022 little league baseball
Gene J. Puskar/AP
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AP
West Region Champion Little League team from Honolulu, Hawaiʻi participates in the opening ceremony of the 2022 Little League World Series baseball tournament in South Williamsport, Pa., Wednesday, Aug 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The Honolulu Little League team continues its winning streak heading into Saturday’s Little League Baseball World Series U.S. championship game.

Honolulu, representing the West Region, will face a team from Nolensville, Tennessee, who they defeated 13 to 0 on Wednesday.

Recent history has proven Hawaiʻi's competitiveness, but the history of Little League in the islands actually predates statehood.

“Hawaiʻi was one of the first areas outside the contiguous, then the 48 states, back in the early 1950s to put programs on the field,” Little League historian Lance Van Auken said from his Florida home.

Van Auken is a retired executive director of the World of Little League Museum and former vice president of the league.

The Honolulu Little League currently in the World Series tournament is one of the oldest in the state. Formerly the Kaimuki Little League, they’ve been playing since 1954.

“Hawaiʻi’s roots in Little League go very deep,” Van Auken said.

The state has made 15 appearances in the Williamsport, Pennsylvania-based tournament, according to the league.

The state has taken home three overall championships in 2005, 2008 and most recently in 2018.

“I think you've seen a surge in Hawaiian teams lately at the Little League World Series,” Van Auken said. He noted that it doesn’t matter that the state doesn’t have a major league team, its great volunteers and dedicated coaching are inspiring enough.

Honolulu Little League coach Gerald Oda
Business Wire/The Associated Press
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Honolulu Little League coach Gerald Oda in 2018.

“All those people combine to make it something special, and it really doesn't matter where in the world,” he said. “We saw that in Taiwan back in 1969 when they first made it to the Little League Baseball World Series and ended up winning 17 of them since then.”

Honolulu Little League coach Gerald Oda played the sport as a kid, as did his brother, Keith Oda, and coach Willis Kato.

“We all have such great experiences playing Little League growing up, it's our way of just kind of repaying a debt of gratitude and paying it forward,” Oda said.

Pitching and high run counts aren’t the only impressive feats of Hawaiʻi team members. Their character on and off the field has caught the attention of others.

Hawaiʻi teams have been voted the Jack Losch Little League Baseball World Series Team Sportsmanship Award in two of the last four appearances.

Losch played on the winning team of the first Little League Baseball World Series, and went on to play football for the University of Miami and the Green Bay Packers.

“We named the award after him because he was a great sport and a great friend of Little League,” Van Aucken said. “For us, it's close to being on a par with handing out the World Championship.”

LLWS South Korea Hawaii Baseball 2018 winners
Tom E. Puskar/AP
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FR60050
The Little League team from Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, poses with the World Champions banner after defeating South Korea in the Little League World Series Championship baseball game in South Williamsport, Pa., Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Tom E. Puskar)

Oda coached the 2018 winners, and returns as manager of this year’s team.

Ahead of Saturday’s game, Oda said the team had a light practice on Friday, before spending quality time with each other and their families.

“Whatever happens in the past is the past,” Oda said. “Baseball is a funny game, anything can happen on any day on any given pitch… If we're fortunate enough to have one more run than the other team tomorrow, great. If not, the most important thing is we just keep working hard.”

Update: After beating the Tennessee team on Saturday, the Honolulu Little League team took home the Little League World Series title on Sunday, Aug. 28. Back-to-back homers from Kekoa Payanal and Kama Angell in the first inning sparked a 13-3 win in just four innings over Curaçao.

Little League historian Lance Van Auken
Extended interview on The Conversation - Aug. 30, 2022

Sabrina Bodon is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact her at sbodon@hawaiipublicradio.org or 808-792-8252.
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