By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
The Hawaii Stars always seem to get healthy — picking up wins and fattening their stats — when they play the last-place East Bay Lumberjacks, who are the East Bay Lumberjacks in name only.
The Lumberjacks are replacing the Vallejo Admirals, who ran into financial trouble. The Vallejo Times-Herald reported on Tuesday that new ownership took over the Admirals, who did not play a scheduled game against the Santa Rosa Rosebuds last week when a group of players refused to take the field.
The Vallejo, Calif., daily paper reported that the former Admirals owner did not pay players their full salaries and several front office personnel either resigned or were let go. The Admirals will continue their season next Tuesday, hosting Santa Rosa at Wilson Park.
East Bay manager Roland Nazar said because of the short notice only three regular Lumberjacks made the trip over. During a recently completed three-game series against Na Koa Ikaika Maui, the Lumberjacks temporarily hired several players from Oahu and Maui.
On Tuesday night, Dallas Mahan and three other Stars combined on a three-hitter, and Hawaii’s offense capitalized on seven errors to wallop the Lumberjacks 9-1 and take the Pacific Association series opener before 50 fans (give or take two or three patrons) at Wong Stadium.
Hawaii (18-25) and East Bay (1-15) play at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Wong and at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the UH-Hilo baseball field. Hawaii’s Onan Masaoka (2-4. 5.48 ERA) is scheduled to start Wednesday and Ronnie Loeffler (0-2, 3.04 ERA) on Saturday. There will be no games Thursday and Friday.
On Saturday, it’s Fan Appreciation Day with free admission for the three-game series finale at UHH. There is no concession and fans are allowed to bring in coolers, food and drinks. Alcohol is prohibited. There is no shade covering and fans are recommended to bring umbrellas and sun screen.
The Lumberjacks, from San Francisco, dropped their semi-pro status when the league added the team as a full-time member on July 5. However, Nazar said a bulk of players, who have full-time jobs, couldn’t make the trip over. That led to former UH-Hilo shortstop John Abreu getting his first taste of independent professional ball.
Abreu, who last picked up a bat and completed his eligibility for the Vulcans on April 13, was hired for the three-game series. He’s a senior majoring in communications and is set to graduate in December. In his last season at UHH, Abreu batted .322 with a homer and 13 RBIs and had a stellar .385 on-base percentage.
He played second base, batted sixth and went 1 for 4, showing his two-strike hitting ability on a 1-2 count with a ground-ball single to center field off hard-throwing reliever Bryan Escanio.
“It’s always a good experience to get back on the field and play against friends,” Abreu said. “It’s a pleasure to play against them. It’s a lot of fun. Hopefully, I get a chance to face Ronnie. The only time I faced him was the alumni game last year. I went 0 for 1. He knows how to work the ball around the plate pretty well.
“Early in the count, I like to look for any pitch over the plate, fastball, off-speed. I want to get a good swing and not cheat myself. When I get two strikes, I really protect the plate, stay back as much as possible and try to catch the ball on the back side of the plate.”
Like any ballplayer with baseball in his blood, Abreu wants to play on a diamond for a living. After graduation, he’s looking to try out for an independent pro team on the mainland. If that doesn’t work out, Abreu’s back-up plan is to find a job on Oahu or join the National Guard.
“I want to get my name out there,” he said. “Being on a small island, it’s hard to get recognition. I’m trying to get my game back and improve as much as possible.”
Mahan (3-1, 2.76 ERA) earned the win with five innings of one-run ball on one hit and one walk, throwing an efficient 69 pitches and chewing up the Lumberjacks for eight strikeouts.
Escanio threw serious heat in his two innings of work and whiffed three. Reece Alnas and Mike Jackson Jr. each added an inning with a strikeout. Hawaii’s four pitchers combined for 13 strikeouts and only one walk, the free pass charged to Mahan.
“My outing went good. I threw strikes and let the defense play. I’m happy our guys threw strikes,” said Mahan, who also doubles as the team’s pitching coach.
Katsuaki Furuki and Dustin Smith each batted 2 for 4 to shine for the Stars, who had nine hits and scored eight unearned runs.
The Lumberjacks are taking their lumps as the league’s doormat, but that will soon change, according to manager Nazar. Earlier in the season, Hawaii swept the Lumberjacks in a three-game series and outscored them 25-6.
“Next year, we’ll have a different approach. We’re building a field in San Roman, California. We’ll be a threat in the league,” he said. “We’ll have a full-time pro squad. We’ll recruit and try to get the best players in California and elsewhere.”
Meanwhile, the Stars are back home after going 5-7 on the road against the San Rafael Pacifics and Vallejo Admirals. Furuki is leading the team with a .321 batting average followed by Brenden Davis, who went 1 for 4 against East Bay.
“It’s always good to be back home,” Hawaii manager Garry Templeton II said. “We need to play a little bit better, doing the little things throughout the game that make a difference for us. Driving in runs early in the game, and little things like taking the extra bases and turning double plays.
“We’ve got a lot of guys on the team who can run. We’ve got to take advantage of that, put pressure on the other team’s defense.”
The Stars followed their manager’s orders, scored five runs in the second inning, went 4 for 4 on steals, including two stolen bases by Matt Hibbert for his team-leading 20 steals, and turned one double play.
In his first independent pro game, Abreu will have a nice memory. On defense, he was part of a triple play in the first inning. Abreu shoveled a pass to shortstop Joe Witting, who fired to first base. Lonnie Jackson threw home and catcher Tommy Lyons tagged out Anthony Williams, who led off with a walk.
Free Stars clinic
The Stars will conduct a free youth baseball clinic Friday at the Victor Colt Field for boys and girls ages 7-12. Registration will be from 8 to 8:45 a.m. at Victor Stadium, with the clinic scheduled to start at 9 a.m. and run until 11 a.m. All participants are asked to bring their gloves, bats, helmets, shoes and water bottles.
For more information, contact Joey Estrella at 895-5977.