Wright On: Correa, ‘Father of Hilo Baseball,’ deserves tribute

  • KEVIN JAKAHI/Tribune-Herald Jimmy Correa, second from left, stands with his son Andy Correa, left, grandson Kainoa Correa, son Tom Correa, and grandson Bryan Arbles in a 2006 photo at Waiakea's baseball field.

If you just moved here, it’s possible you don’t know about Jimmy Correa’s legacy in Hilo baseball, but you would be hard pressed to find anyone, at any level, who has participated for any amount of time — from Little League through college baseball here — who doesn’t know about his lasting imprint on the game.

That’s why it seems long overdo that there is still no public recognition of Correa, known to anyone who played or coached the game in Hilo, as the “Father of Hilo Baseball.”

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That slight can be easily remedied in the days and weeks ahead if the County Council officially recognizes the oversight — nobody’s saying Jimmy Correa’s legacy has been intentionally ignored — and names the new Kuawa Street Complex after James “Jimmy” Correa, the Father of Big Island Baseball. A small plaque briefly explaining his legacy could be easily accomplished.

For the record, here’s what the official ordinance says in the Hawai’i County Code, Section 15-67 (Naming of recreational facilities):

(a) The names of all recreational facilities shall be designated in accordance with requirements set forth herein:

(2) Open areas.

Any open area shall:

(A) Be named for its neighborhood, community, region, district or other identifying geographical location; or

(B) Be named for a former member of the Hawaiian monarchy; or

(C) Be named or re-named for a person or persons alive or deceased, who meet one or more of the following criteria:

(i) The person has contributed significantly to the recreational programs in the community in which the open area is located;

(ii) The person has achieved significant recognition on the national or international level;

(iii) The person has been honored for service with the armed forces of the United States of America; or

(iv) The person has accomplished significant achievements in other fields of endeavor which have been of benefit to other persons.

Clearly, James “Jimmy” Correa meets all of the qualifications, and then some. It’s not true that the ordinances were written for Jimmy Correa, it just seems that way when you know who he is and what he did for baseball.

It’s odd, because as time flies by, even newbies to the Big Island who self-identify as “baseball people,” may well have heard about Kaha Wong, the batting instructor oracle who does his work in an unmarked warehouse, out of public view, where he churns out professional hitters like he has a secret assembly line.

He doesn’t, but Wong has two sons on major league rosters, and a list of others in various stages of pro ball, all while he’s developing more soon to be drafted.

Kaha Wong had a mentor.

“That’s why I’m here, that’s why I do what I do,” Wong said last week of Jimmy Correa, who coached 31 years at St. Joseph High School — winning two state championships — and coached in all youth and Senior leagues, including Colt League, where he took two Hilo teams to national championships. “He coached me early and later on, the principles he had are the ones I still use.”

Wong played on the first Colt national championship team in 1981, the first Hilo team to win a World Series championship.

“He explained things in simple terms and then he would teach you what it meant,” Wong said. “He would say, ‘In baseball, you get everything you earn,’ or he would tell kids, ‘You see the ball coming in outside, take that pitch to right field, it comes inside, turn on it,’ and then he’d show you how. There were no distractions, he was always giving you some information you could use.”

Baseball’s 2020 season hasn’t started yet, but baseball is warming up this time of year, with spring training preparations and the accompanying meeting of minds in the major leagues.

One of those stories you’ll be hearing soon, if you haven’t already, is the connection to Hilo with an unprecedented move by the San Francisco Giants who recently announced the hiring of Kainoa Correa, Jimmy Correa’s grandson, as the new bench coach for manager Gabe Kapler.

At 31, Correa is believed to be the youngest bench coach in major league history, but on this team it’s not a shock. Kapler has overturned tradition in a sense, with one holdover assistant, 58-year-old, third base coach Ron Wotus, on a staff that includes eight more assistants, all of whom range in age from 29 to 38.

This will be one of Major League Baseball’s ongoing narratives throughout the season — How Is The Kid Coaching Staff Working Out? — but, at least in Correa’s case, age is just a number. He probably knew more baseball, lived more baseball, by the age of 8 than most of his contemporaries knew by 18.

“A significant portion of what I do got its roots from him,” said Kainoa of his grandfather. “There has to be an attention to detail, but at the same time, the highest quality of work has a simplicity of movement component to it.

“The more I use hard data, the more film I watch, the more analytics and statistics I go through, the more I see options to get things accomplished,” he said. “You need to take the harsh information and turn it into a softer understanding, a simplicity for getting it done.

“That’s what my grandfather taught, breaking it down to the basics, keeping it simple.”

It has always been the case, but it’s more relevant now than ever that, in virtually any line of work, if you’re doing the same thing today that you did 10 years ago, you are probably making mistakes, doing things clumsily.

Sports is a prime example, sometimes because rules change, forcing new ways of teaching, sometimes because there are better ways, simpler ways, to do what you used to do.

Jimmy Correa wasn’t about overthinking things, he was more about doing the little things right.

One of Correa’s standout local products fully endorsed the idea of naming the Kuawa Street complex in his honor.

“To be quite honest,” said Joey Estrella, who played for Correa in Colt, High School and Senior Leagues, to name a few, “something like that for Jimmy is long overdo.”

Estrella was a slick fielding shortstop in high school and played the same role for the University of Hawaii, before becoming the baseball coach and later, the athletics director at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. More recently, he helped coach softball for the Vulcans and is still actively involved in the game he grew up loving.

“He knew baseball,” Estrella said, “I mean, he really knew the game and a lot of the things I learned from him I took with me as a player, then a coach.”

At one point, Estrella nominated Correa for recognition with the United States Baseball Federation in its volunteer coach program, which awarded him a national honor at a convention in Atlanta.

“He deserved it,” Estrella said. “All those years at St. Joseph? All those years in Colt, PONY (Protect Our Nation’s Youth), and all the others? It was his life.”

There were Little League teams that won championships, two Colt teams that won national recognition in the Colt World Series, there was the time he coached to a PONY and Colt team to a state championship in the same season.

“He coached me year after year, it seemed,” Estrella said, “but it wasn’t just me. There was a long stretch of years where it seems like he coached everybody who played baseball in Hilo, at one level or another.”

Like a humble Dad in the community.

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Like the Father of Hilo Baseball.

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