I get paid to watch games? Yes, and this one was a pleasure

  • Tribune-Herald file photo Hilo’s Carson Kawaguchi, center right, is congratulated after his game-winning hit in the 2015 PONY state tournament.

Amid the day-to-day grind that can make any job seem like a chore, there are many welcome respites that come with this one.

Not all that unoften, a story practically writes itself.

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These are the kind of stories that you’re thanked for afterward by a participant but can’t help but think, “Why? You guys did all the work.”

Let’s continue looking back at some of the most memorable sporting events that yours truly has been privileged enough to cover during the past 10-plus years by revisiting one of those stories.

Monday, June 29, 2015: Hilo PONY Baseball

This was, in fact, child’s play, with enough drama and emotion on one diamond to fill all three fields at Walter Victor complex.

On the south-facing field, the Hilo Broncos – with Kalai Rosario, drafted last week by the Twins, and future Hawaii signee Safea Villaruz-Mauai in tow – overpowered the competition at the state tournament, outscoring their opposition 46-13 and outhomering them 10-0.

A year younger and playing a short stroll to the north, the Hilo Bronco 11s didn’t boast such bulk, and their state crown didn’t come as effortlessly.

Coach Shon Malani’s first youth baseball mini-power got by with a certain bulldog-like spirit, and in this case, a stroke of chance. Though the team had won a Mustang 9s state title, they only entered this tournament two years later because Hilo was hosting.

“Coach Shon’s team was close, we were like family,” Carson Kawaguchi, a Waiakea High senior, said recently. “We are still family. We didn’t have the biggest players, but he brought out the best in us. It was just fun times back then.”

On this day, the fun started early for Hilo. Needing to beat Mililani twice, the Bronco 11s got a gem of a start from left-hander Dylan Honda and held on to win 9-6 to force a winner-take-all.

What 11-year-old wouldn’t want to play two?

Only the heat cut into the festivities.

“Very hot,” first-base coach Grant Baclig, whose son Falu was on the team, said Tuesday. “I was warming up pitchers in the shade as long as they could before taking the field, just so they could stay out of the sun.

“I remember Kawehi Ili caught all 14 innings.”

Dallas Kaili hit a two-run home run and Tobey Jackson’s RBI double helped Hilo to a quick 4-0 lead in the second game, and Kawaguchi, another left-hander, delivered five strong innings. Hilo was sailing before it almost all came crashing down in the top of the seventh inning as Mililani tied the game 7-7 with standout Brock Malani on the mound thanks to a untimely error.

Heading into the bottom of the seventh, this would be a good time for Grant Baclig to reminisce about what he liked most about this team: “They were small but played with big hearts. They played together, played hit-and-run and small-ball. They were fundamentally sound.”

Sure enough, Honda hit a one-out single, and one out later he was still at first when Shon Malani called a hit-and-run. The 30th and final run of the doubleheader was recorded when Honda scampered all the way around the bases on Kawaguchi’s opposite-field double. That set off a celebration that was dedicated to a couple of grandmothers who couldn’t be there in person.

Millie Kawaguchi was ill, but she was about to hear every last detail, especially that game-winning hit.

“This one meant a lot to me because my nana was ill, and I just wanted to do it for her,” Kawaguchi said recently. “It was a very exciting game, and I wish both my nana and papa were there because they love to watch baseball.”

Grant Baclig’s mom was stranded in California with a heart issue, and as luck would have it Hilo was headed there for the West Zone tournament.

“The first thing I did after we won was grab Falu and tell him, “We’re going to get to see Moma,”’ Baclig said.

Before leaving for California in late July, Carson Kawaguchi brought a smile to his nana’s face in the hospital.

“I told my nana that I hit a walk-off for her,” he said. “Everyone was happy that day at the hospital.”

She told him to go play; do your thing. She died on July 11.

No PONY coach in recent years has had as much success as Shon Malani. His second group of youngsters broke through last summer and claimed the Pony 13s World Series.

As for the original mini-power, most are set to be seniors.

Falu Baclig’s grandmother’s health rebounded, so she’ll have a chance to watch her grandson play next spring on a senior-laden Kamehameha volleyball team that should be stout.

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The day after the Hilo 11s won their state tourney in 2015, I ran into Grant Baclig at Walter Victor as I was on my way to watch Rosario and company pulverize another team. Baclig said he’d read the Tribune-Herald’s game recap to his mom over the phone, and he told me she cried. He thanked me for “writing such a good story.”

No, no, thank you.

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