With Waiakea alum Correa on the bench, 107-win Giants face rival Dodgers in playoffs

  • Kai Correa was just 31 years old when the Giants made him the youngest bench coach in the majors in 2020. San Francisco surprises most of the big leagues this season in winning the NL West crown. “It’s amazing. Teams sit down in spring training and talk about goals, one of them is to stick to your vision and process to realize your original goal,” Kai Correa said. “A lot has been written about us, but at the end of the day the players perform. Our sum is greater than any individual part.”

There was little doubt the San Francisco Giants were gigantic underdogs to win the National League West title, which the Los Angeles Dodgers won the last eight years, including the World Series during the Covid-shortened 2020 season.

The Dodgers are the new Rockerfellers of baseball with a 2021 MLB-high payroll of $267 million, outspending the ultimate capitalists, the New York Yankees, who were second at $203 million. The Giants rank 10th at $163 million.

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When Guggenheim Baseball Management, a bunch of wealthy suits, including Magic Johnson and controlling partner Mark Walter (whose financial firm has $310 billion in assets), bought the Dodgers for $2.15 billion in 2012, expectations and payroll went though the roof.

In 2020, the Dodgers made a Guggenheim deal, trading for outfielder Mookie Betts and pitcher David Price from the Red Sox. Betts signed a $365 million, 12-year extension in 2021. Price is still on a $217 million, seven-year deal that runs until 2022.

Los Angeles, which signed an $8.35 billion, 25-year regional broadcast TV deal with Tim Warner Cable in January, can afford to whiff on big-ticket free agents like pitcher Trevor Bauer, currently on suspension for alleged sexual misconduct. He signed a $102 million, three-year deal during the offseason. The Dodgers responded in Guggenheim style, snagging Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer and all-star shortstop Trea Turner.

Perhaps the best personnel move the Dodgers made was to steal president Andrew Friedman, who built the cash-poor Tampa Bay Rays, into a budget-conscious annual contender in 2014.

The Giants pulled a Guggenheim chess move when they hired his lieutenant Farhan Zaidi as their president. Zaidi worked for the Oakland A’s, so he knows how to work his way around small payrolls and understands any mistakes are colossal on a shoe-string budget.

One of the most innovative moves Zaidi made was his hiring of Kainoa Correa as the youngest bench coach at 31 years old last year. The 2006 Waiakea graduate is a perfect blend of old-school baseball and new-age technology.

Correa made a name for himself as a fielding technician with his Friday Fielder’s videos catching the attention of MLB clubs. But upon closer inspection, they also landed someone with institutional knowledge

That’s the benefit of sitting on the bench and listening to his late grandpa, Coach Jimmy Correa, for decades. But there’s something else, too, that the Correa Family Business of Baseball takes to work every day: Leadership skills.

Kai, like his grandpa, dad and former Waiakea coach Tom Correa, and uncle and Kamehameha coach Andy Correa all share is an engaging, encouraging and knowledgeable baseball personality.

Some people were born to play in the NBA or swim in a pool or hit a tennis ball, Kai and his relatives were destined to run the Correa Family Business of Baseball.

So it is that the Giants improved their fielding percentage to .986 from .980 and won the NL West with an MLB-best 107-55 record, a game better than the Dodgers, heading into their NL Division Series, which begins Friday.

“It’s amazing. Teams sit down in spring training and talk about goals, one of them is to stick to your vision and process to realize your original goal,” Kai Correa said. “A lot has been written about us, but at the end of the day the players perform. Our sum is greater than any individual part.”

How much of it is fate that the Dodgers and Giants will meet in the postseason? San Francisco last captured the World Series in 2014 in seven games over the Kansas City Royals.

The Dodgers have the most NL pennants with 24, and the Giants have 23. The Dodgers have won the NL West 19 times compared to the Giants’ 9 since the Divisional era in 1969. The Giants have more total wins, head-to-head wins, and World Series titles (8-7) in franchise history.

Tom Correa’s most famous quote, applying directly by vast coincidence, to the Giants, is about fate and performance: “You have to be lucky enough to get the breaks and good enough to take advantage of them.”

It just so happens that three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, 33, is showing his age this season with Father Time following the left-hander like a shadow. He won’t pitch in the postseason because of forearm discomfort.

Who knows if the Giants can continues their run over the Dodgers? San Francisco was 10-9 over the Dodgers and took all three series in the second half (3-1, 2-1 and 2-1) to secure the division title and home field in the NLDS.

But one thing is certain: San Francisco has buy-in from the players to work hard and play together. Dysfunctional clubs are not in the same ballpark with that winning blueprint, a reason losing streaks, on any level or sport, stretch into decades.

“It always comes down to the players,” Kai said. “Fortunately, we have guys who are open-minded and were welcome to our belief, willing to train a little differently, willing to play multiple positions.”

Though not deep-pocketed, the Giants were fourth in OPS at .769, behind the Toronto Blue Bays (.796), Houston Astros (.782), and Boston Red Sox (.777). Getting on base and slugging runners home is becoming the most favorable stat to measure offense.

Perhaps, more amazing San Francisco was second in home runs (241) to Toronto (262). First baseman Brandon Belt led the way with 29 homers, followed by outfielder Mike Yastrzemski (25), and shortstop Brandon Crawford (24).

The Giants were second in ERA (3.24), behind the Dodgers (3.01). Kevin Gausman (14-6, 2.81 ERA) anchored the staff, followed by Logan Webb (11-3, 3.03), and Anthony DeSclafani (13-7, 3.17).

There’s one great thing about home-field advantage. Kai gets to eat a home-cooked meal by wife, Brittany, and kiss his daughter, Avery, who’s about to turn 2 years old soon, a happy goodnight.

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“My wife is a rock star,” he said. “She spends most of the day with our daughter. On my days off, we like to go to the beach or park. There are no beaches like Hawaii’s but it’s clean enough.”

Little Avery is old enough to shout: Go Giants, beat L.A.

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