By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Reece Alnas took a long journey before landing a roster spot on the Hawaii Stars, graduating from Kamehameha in 2007, playing at Palomar (Calif.) junior college, then transferring to Oklahoma Baptist and reaching the NAIA World Series in his senior year in 2011.
Alnas is one of four players from Hilo on the Stars, who are in their inaugural season in the independent North American Baseball League. The others are pitchers Ronnie Loeffler, a 2004 Waiakea graduate who pitched at UH-Hilo; Michael Kenui, a 2009 Waiakea graduate who played at Shoreline (Wash.) community college; and Cortney Arruda, who pitched at Hilo High.
“I’m excited and very happy for the opportunity,” Alnas said. “I can’t wait to get this all started.”
Alnas was a four-sport standout at Kamehameha, playing baseball, football, basketball and running track. He went out for football at Palomar in his first year, but redshirted and decided to stick to baseball.
Then he got a scholarship to Oklahoma Baptist, which is a long way, roughly 3,700 miles, from home.
Why Oklahoma Baptist?
“Every time I meet someone I always get asked that,” Alnas said. “I had an opportunity to play. I had it and I took it. I had one other offer from a school in Missouri. I had a voice mail and it was from Bobby Cox. I thought it was Bobby Cox from the Atlanta Braves. But that was the name of the Oklahoma Baptist coach.
“I got in contact with him and within two days I signed and in 20 days I was in Oklahoma. It was a total different culture. I got to meet a lot of new people, and shot guns at my coach’s ranch, and went fishing in a pond. I tried new foods and ate a lot of potato spuds. It was a big difference from Hawaii. But I like change and meeting new people.”
Palomar is one of those California junior colleges that serves as a recruiting hotbed for four-year schools. Half of Oklahoma Baptist’s roster consisted of California juco players, and the two programs have an established pipeline.
Alnas, a center fielder, batted .283 with two homers and 35 RBIs and had a .360 on-base percentage in 2011. He was 12 of 15 in stolen bases in his senior year for the Bison, who went 46-14.
At the World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, the Bison lost to Lubbock Christian in the first game, beat Tennessee Wesleyan, then were eliminated by Concordia University, a run Alnas enjoyed but lamented that it didn’t last longer.
“It was awesome. It was a baseball environment,” he said. “It happened so quick. We didn’t get acclimated to the environment. It was too late for us to get rolling.
“People don’t think NAIA is any good. My conference alone we played four teams from the top 25. People shouldn’t look down on junior colleges and the NAIA. One good thing people need to know is it’s great competition.”
After his eligibility expired, Alnas went to an independent pro ball tryout in Florida, which he termed “a waste of time and a sham.” Then he got a call from Kaha Wong, the Stars’ baseball operations consultant, and found his way back home.
Alnas graduated a year ahead of Kolten Wong, who played baseball, football and ran track. Alnas endorsed playing multiple sports in the pursuit of landing a college scholarship.
“I’d say for high school do as much as you can. One sport gets you ready for the next,” he said. “It keeps your body going and especially in Hawaii it’s a good way to keep people out of trouble. And you vary your options.
“You may not think you’re a great football player and you play baseball, but maybe a college likes the way you play a position in football. Kolten played three sports in high school and he still got a Division I scholarship in baseball.”
Alnas has a few semesters to earn a psychology degree. He’s put that on hold. After a year not playing, he’s ready to play ball, again.
“I’m looking to go as far as I possibly can,” he said. “I tried to keep my head up and just kept pushing forward after college. And good things happened.”
Independent pro baseball
Who: Hilo Stars
Local players: Reece Alnas, Ronnie Loeffler, Michael Kenui, Cortney Arruda
Season opener: Tuesday at Maui Na Koa Ikaika
Home opener: June 12 against Sonoma County Grapes
Where: Wong Stadium, 5:35 p.m.