Father/son championships by Pearl City make World Series history
Before each of their games in the Junior League World Series, the members of the Pearl City, Hawaii, baseball team walked slowly to a banner signifying the world championship won by the 1984 team from Pearl City.
Player after player placed two hands on the banner as a sign of respect – and perhaps hoping that something from the past success would rub off on them.
On Saturday, Pearl City became only the second team from Hawaii to win a second Junior League World Series, defeating Manila, Philippines, 6-2, at Heritage Park in Taylor. Aiea, Hawaii, won back to back world titles in 2000 and 2001.
This year, Keanu Sato was one of the 14 boys on the championship team. Twenty-three years ago, his father Scott Sato played first base and pitched on the Pearl City team that won that 1984 World Series.
They are believed to be the only father-son team to win championships in JLWS history.
Moments after Saturday’s final victory, Scott Sato embraced his son in the middle of World Series field and told him how proud he was.
“It feels great,” Scott said. “It’s something special for me and my son to come back here and both a World Series title. It’s something special.”
Scott said he was doing fine until he saw the boys take their victory lap with the World Series banner.
“It really hit me when they ran around with the flag,” he said. “I’m not going to lie. I wiped some tears. They played ‘We are the Champions.’ Every year they play that.
He said there are some similarities between this year’s championship team from Pearl City and the 1984 team.
Players on both teams had excellent chemistry and “had each other’s back,” he said. In 1984, there was a storm on championship Saturday. This year, it was drizzling.
And both title games ended on a double play.
“I knew we had a pretty good chance this year,” Scott said. “I was sure they could do it. I had my time. This is his time.”
Added Keanu, succinctly: “It just feels great.”
Manager Mitchell Yamato, who grew up with Scott Sato, was here last year when Pearl City’s run fell short.
“I don’t know how many people believe in it, but there are baseball gods,” Yamato said. “I believe in baseball gods. I think baseball gods took care of it for us.”
●Keanu Sato was one of five players who were part of the 2006 and 2007 World Series in Taylor. The others were Kahana Neal, Chace Numata, Kainalu Chmolack and Isaac Shim.
Manager Mitchell Yamato said the fact that the players had been to Taylor before had a positive influence on the team.
The players, coaches and even some parents said the camaraderie on the team had improved greatly in a year. Many of them have been playing together since their days in T-ball.
“This team gels better,” Numata said. “All of us get together very well. We’re like brothers.”
The “returnees,” he said, “wanted to come back here. We pushed each other. When people got down, we picked them up. We’re so close, it’s unbelievable. We’re like family.”
He said the closeness showed on and off the field.
“I guess this year’s team kept its composure and kept its focus the entire game,” Numata said. “Last year’s team would get down on itself. It was hard to pick each other up. This year’s team was good. It felt great actually being one of the older guys and picking up the players and pushing them.”
In Hawaii, baseball is a year-round sport.
“It’s my favorite sport,” Numata said. “I can’t live without it.”
●Besides Sato, there were several other family connections on the world championship team from Hawaii.
Chace and Chevas Numata are brothers. Last year, Chevas watched as Chace played in Taylor. This year, they both played.
Their uncle, Garrett Nago, managed the Pearl City team in 2004. Their grandmother, Betty Nago, is district administrator of the district that includes Pearl City and returns to Taylor annually whether or not Pearl City is in the series. She stays with Jim and Ellen Sicotte. Jim is one of the public address announcers of the series.
Neal’s brother, Kala, played in Taylor in 2005 and 2006. In fact, both Neals played in the JLWS in 2006.
Kawika Pruett’s brother, Alika, played for Pearl City in 2004 and 2005.
All of the players were factors in the World Series.
Neal, the son of Dirk and Kini Neal, was 2-0 on the mound, allowing just two earned runs in 16 innings pitched for a 0.88 earned run average. On days he didn’t pitch, he played infield. He batted .421 (8-for-19) for the week. He also is credited with being the quiet leader of the team.
The Numatas are the sons of Nathan “Homey” and Cher Numata. Chace Numata also was 2-0. His earned run average was even lower (0.58). And he hit .400 (8-for-20). His brother Chevas batted .375 (6-for-16).
Sato batted .308 and pitched a two-hit shutout over Glendale, Wisconsin.
Pruett, son of Hubert and Renee, led Team Hawaii in hitting with a .467 average (7-for-15), seven runs batted in and on-base percentage (.652). He also served as the team’s closer, coming on in three games to pitch three important hitless innings, including the last frame of Pearl City’s USA championship win over Laredo, Texas, 4-1, on Friday night.
Pruett and Chevas Numata both have another year of Junior League eligibility.
●Hawaii was a rarity in JLWS history. The team hit no home runs during its six World Series victories. Manager Yamato said he prefers line-drive hits.
It paid off. Pearl City still scored more runs than any other team in the international tournament and outscored opponents, 42-12. Only Surrey, British Columbia, averaged more runs per game (8.2).
Meanwhile, the team that hit the most home runs – Anderson, South Carolina (5) – did not win any of its four games.
●In all, 10 teams play in the World Series. This year, there were five teams in the USA pool: Hawaii, Wisconsin and South Carolina, plus Laredo, Texas, and Middletown, New Jersey; Glendale, Wisconsin. Each won a regional championship.
The five international teams were the Philippines (Asia-Pacific); British Columbia (Canadian); Kirovograd, Ukraine (Europe/Middle East/Africa); St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands (Latin America); and Guayama, Puerto Rico, which received an automatic berth as a national champion.
●Franklin Leonard II of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, won the 2007 Home Run Derby held earlier on Saturday.
After one round, Leonard was tied at four home runs (out of five swings) with Adriane Benardo of Manila, Philippines, and Luke Gibson Jr. of South Carolina. Getting three more swings off a tee, Leonard was the only one of the three to hit one out of the Taylor South Senior League field at Heritage Park.
●World Series Director Greg Bzura founded the tournament with volunteers from the Taylor South Little League in 1981. He has been director for 27 consecutive years.
Bzura is never at a loss for words after a World Series ends. Again, he praised the players, coaches and spectators.
“This was one tremendous week and one tremendous game by two tremendous teams,” Bzura said.
●The championship game, which was carried live by ESPNU, will be broadcast on ESPN2 at 2 p.m. August 29.