Ogata a card-carrying member for Big Island baseball

  • Rick Ogata, left, caught up with Kolten Wong when the major leaguer returned to Kamehameha in 2016. His baseball card collection includes, from top left clockwise, Kolten Wong, Kean Wong, Quintin Torres-Costa and Micah Bello.

If you’ve been to a basketball or volleyball game in Hilo town in the past 10-plus years, you might have seen Rick Ogata. He’s either standing rigidly, kneeling on one knee or sitting on a movable stool with cameras in hand.

After a game, players and relatives can flock to Facebook to see what photos have been posted, including those of visiting teams islandwide.

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Though he’s racked up enough Facebook friends to make the most popular boy or girl in school jealous, Ogata isn’t in it for the money. He’s in it for the competition and for the community.

“I’ve always loved sports, I always loved playing it and I was never a good player,” said Ogata, a 1976 Hilo High graduate. “I used to play for fun and then when my knees and my back got bad, that’s when I got involved in photography. At least I was still in sports, even though I couldn’t play it.”

During the COVID-19 shutdown, Ogata has stayed in touch by keeping up with another one of his hobbies: card collecting.

Ogata was a big-name hunter in the 1980s, chasing down the likes of baseball stars Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. He was always hoping to snag that rookie card, and scoring an autographed one was all the better. Ogata said he once bought a Michael Jordan rookie card for around $80, then sold it sometime later for $200. A solid return on investment until you consider “maybe now it goes for $2,000,” Ogata said. “It’s nuts.”

And it got boring, which is why Ogata has gone local, trading in Bonds, Jordan and McGwire to concentrate on Kolten Wong, Micah Bello and Hilo’s other homegrown pro baseball talent.

“I pretty much did everything for so-called value, but it really had no meaning to me,” he said. “I had no attachment, so I started collecting the local players, at least they have some meaning.

“They’re are not of high value, except maybe for Kolten, but it has meaning. I’ve watched these kids locally, a lot in high school, or even before that.”

His 2016 autographed card of Wong – the Big Island’s only current major leaguer – with a St. Louis Cardinal’s game jersey is valued at $15-20, which is about $5 or $10 more than Ogata’s 2014 Wong rookie card.

“I live and die on eBay,” Ogata said.

Bello, a second-round pick in 2018 by the Brewers, holds value despite never playing above rookie ball. The newest card in Ogata’s collection is Bello’s recently released 2020 autographed chrome card. Ogata’s budget is usually around $10, so he was out of luck the other day when another 2020 Bello card, a version in which only five were made, sold for $212.50.

“It’s because he’s a prospect,” Ogata said. “People are always are looking for the next Mike Trout, the next star.”

Of Hilo’s eight pro baseball players, Ogata also owns cards of Kean Wong – who has his first MLB rookie card out – Kodi Medeiros, Quintin Torres-Costa and Jodd Carter. Ogata said cards haven’t been issued yet for Joey Jarneski and Edgar Barclay.

During the glory days of card collecting – long before the internet – kids and collectors alike would buy a pack of cards, have a stick of gum – which was included – and maybe trade a card or two.

Not anymore.

“In the 1970s, trading cards was big, but now it’s all about the money,” Ogata said. “Trading cards is a lost art.”

“To me it’s about having fun and saying, ‘Oh yeah, I know this kid from playing PONY League or (Little) League from our town.’ You can cheer them on. That’s why I collect the cards I do now.”

If Torres-Costa, a Brewers’ Triple-A prospect, should make the jump to the majors and become an all-star reliever, Ogata’s 2016 and ‘19 cards of the Waiakea grad, both valued at $3-5, would see a nice rise in worth.

“It could jump to $100,” Ogata said.

The same goes for Kean Wong (Ogata’s 2014 autographed card is valued at $5-10, and Wong’s Giants rookie card is $1-2), Medeiros (2015 autographed, $3-5) and Carter (2016, $2-3). And don’t forget Onan Masaoka, the Big Islander’s first major leaguer. Ogata’s got the Waiakea alum’s 1996 rookie card with the Dodgers, though it’s gone down from its original $5 value.

While he appreciates his collection now more than ever, Ogata is looking forward to the sports world resuming, locally and beyond. His favorite sports to photograph are volleyball and basketball because of the nonstop action. His favorite sport is baseball, going back to the days of the Cincinnati Reds’ Big Red Machine in the 1970s.

He even likes hockey.

“People will say, ‘You live in Hawaii. There is no ice!,”’ Ogata said. “I love watching hockey on TV and started to love the sport when Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux were playing.”

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His favorite team is the Calgary Flames after he and his wife, Miranda, went to the Flames’ home opener in Alberta, Canada, a few years back. Ogata can’t talk much hockey on the Big Island, but he can find his fix on fan forums.

“I’ll go on forums, and fans of the Edmonton Oilers (the Flames’ Alberta rival) will cuss me out,” he said.

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