He is far from the first and most assuredly will not be the last, but Hilo High School senior Micah Bello spent last week in California delivering personal workouts to several Major League Baseball teams for one big reason.
Bello is the next Hilo baseball player to be drafted early by a big league team, probably within the first three rounds.
The beat goes on for this remarkable talent pool on the Big Island.
The Dodgers got to see him up close and personal last week, along with the Padres, Tampa Bay and the Angels. They all want to see something a little different, a little more swinging the bat here, a little more defensive play there.
The process demands players impress prospective teams with an understanding of fundamentals, but maybe more than that, they look for technique, searching for holes in the swing, issues tracking a ball in the outfield or going to the backhand to make a play in the infield.
“Kind of a merry-go-round,” Bello said last week in a telephone interview of the experience. “Baseball has always been fun for me, I sort of had an easy time with it growing up, but this is a hectic process. I just try to stay focused on baseball and let other stuff go.”
He’s done pretty well with that approach, starting for Hilo High School as a ninth grader and improving year by year.
“When he came to me and I saw what his hand speed was with the bat, it was, ‘Whoa, we might have something here,’” said Tony DeSa who retired from coaching Hilo baseball after the recently completed season. “He was just a freshman, but in the outfield? He could track down anything out there.”
Bello batted lower in the order as a freshman, then moved up to leadoff in the order, which is where he remained.
“I knew so many people who worked with him before he came to us, there wasn’t much I needed to do or say, really,” DeSa said. “He was figuring things out as a freshman, and still a little bit as a sophomore but after that, he just blossomed, it was like, ‘Here he comes.’”
In his years at Hilo, DeSa coached some of the best players this area has ever produced.
He coached Kolten Wong, Jodd Carter, Joey Jarneski and others, some of whom DeSa could have had major league skills sets but took different routs in athletics after high school.
Wong, in recent years, has been the standard bearer, the ballplayer youngsters like Bello knew and followed. Then came Wong’s younger brother Kean and it was an even tighter connection with players of Bello’s age.
Kean Wong has been having a big season with Tampa Bay’s AAA affiliate and friends of his, like Bello, are motivated by the understanding that these big league dreams can come true.
It recalls a time for this column when Chuck Knox coached the Seahawks and drafted a 6-foot-7 quarterback from Maryland named Mike Tice. Knox immediately converted him to tight end and signed tight end Charle Young, a professional veteran who had played at the highest level.
Tice used to tell the story of talking to Knox about not knowing much about the new position and it ended with him recalling Knox’s suggestion.
“He would say, ‘See that guy (Young), over there? Follow him around on the practice field, in the weight room, everywhere he goes. If he gets up to walk across the room, you go with him.”
Tice learned how to be a tight end, then became a line coach and was head coach at Minnesota for a couple of seasons.
When Kean Wong came home for the holidays several months ago, Bello was his shadow.
“It was an important time for me,” Bello said, “kind of a watch and learn type thing. It’s a process, working out, staying shape, trying to improve in areas you need it.
“The experience showed me that this is a job, it’s a grind you jump into every day with a good attitude, if you’re willing to do the work.
“I’m willing, I’m more than willing,” Bello said. “Hanging with him sort of absorbing everything just made me more determined, it gave me more help because I can absolutely see myself getting into that process, that’s what I want, just to concentrate on baseball and getting better day-by-day.”
Bello has seven years of instruction from Kaha Wong, father of Kolten and Kean and the unofficial but well known Batting Whisperer to east Hawaii youth. Bello started playing before he can remember, when his father nudged him toward baseball as a 4-year-old and kept on him.
“Mostly, I loved it all the time, but there were some times I wanted to just rest and stuff, but my dad wouldn’t let me, we’d go do something instead,” Bello said. “He did the right thing, I was just testing, I guess, because I knew the (baseball) work would be good for me.”
Kaha Wong taught the importance of the lower body at the plate, using legs and hips in a certain rhythm that generated more bat speed and more power than humanly possible by just swinging “with all arms.”
He was zeroed in at the plate, but that wasn’t all Bello brought to the Vikings.
“He’s an athletic freak,” DeSa said. “I cannot tell you how many runs he saved us over the years by his play in centerfield, I mean, sometimes at the end of games I had trouble trying to account for all the runs he saved.”
It was Death To All Flying Things in the Hilo outfield these last four seasons with Bello’s uncanny ability to track the flight of a batted ball.
“The jumps he would get were unbelievable,” DeSa said, “I mean, boom — he’s chasing that thing down and you think, ’No way he’s going to get that one,’ and somehow, time after time, he would make that play.”
Bello’s leadership attributes usually came down to keeping teammates loose. He would joke, poke, have fun in the dugout and when the time came, he’d get serious.
“They all responded to him,” DeSa said, “and he kept everyone loose, but he also had that no-fear mentality, so if it was a tough situation, you’d see him in the dugout, demanding, “Let’s go, let’s do this,” or whatever, and then he’d grab a bat and go up to the plate and get on base. Once he started something, everyone responded.
At the end, DeSa decided to get out of coaching and back into the real world where he can follow the progress of some of the big league talent he’s coached. Where does Bello rank?
“Somewhere in the Top 5 for sure,” DeSa said, “as an athletes? He’d be in the Top 3. As a centerfielder? Best I ever had the opportunity to coach.”
He may need or two adjust to the professional game, but Micah Bello has a bunch of tools that attract attention for major league scouts who have sent details to their organizations for the draft that begins Monday.
Now, it’s just a matter of finding out who wants the next Hilo big leaguer the most.
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