By J.R. De GROOTE
Stephens Media Hawaii
Konawaena All-Big Island Interscholastic Federation catcher Evyn Yamaguchi is converting from Wildcat to Gila Monster, and trading in his green garb for purple and gold.
This week, Yamaguchi signed on to continue his education and baseball career at Eastern Arizona, where he has accepted a full-ride scholarship.
“It’s such a big relief,” Yamaguchi said. “My whole life I worked toward getting a scholarship to pay back all the hard work and effort my parents put into me.”
Yamaguchi graduated with a 3.68 GPA and scored 1390 on his SAT. He plans to major in fire science.
“I would like to thank my parents for being the best coaches I’ve ever had and for always supporting me” he said. “Also, a big thank you to all my past coaches and teammates for helping make me the player I am today.”
A two-sport athlete, he was also an All-BIIF performer at linebacker on the Wildcats’ BIIF championship football team.
Yamaguchi said Eastern Arizona assistant coach John Chalmers approached him in the fall at a showcase put on by Kaha Wong, who has helped land scholarships for over 40 players. He verbally committed to the school then, but made it official by signing his letter of intent this week.
“A special thanks to Kaha Wong, for putting on showcases that provide exposure and opportunities for boys on the Big Island,” said Yamaguchi.
The Gila Monsters play in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference, a 14-team wood bat league. Eastern Arizona struggled last season, finishing last in the conference with a 7-29-2 record and a 15-37-2 overall record. Yamaguchi is expected to be a contributor right away.
“I have coached a lot of great catchers and he is right towards the top,” said Konawaena head coach Dave Distel, who has nearly 50 years of coaching experience on his resume. “You forget he is in high school sometimes. It was like having another coach on the field. He called 98 percent of all of our defensive alignments and pitches this year. He is just an incredible leader and an exemplary young man.”
For Yamaguchi, the leadership role was a natural one. The core of the Wildcats’ roster had played together since they could swing a bat.
“To be a leader of random people is hard, but when they see you as a brother, rather than a boss, it makes it a lot easier,” Yamaguchi said.
On defense, Yamaguchi earned a reputation as a gunslinger. According to Distel, only 12 runners attempted to steal on the Wildcats’ captain. Eight were caught.
“A complete high school player comes very rarely for a coach, and he is about as a complete player as you can get,” Distel said. “He is never satisfied and is always looking to get better.”
Distel referenced the struggles Yamaguchi had his junior year at the plate, when he recorded just a .290 batting average, only 14 RBIs and three extra-base hits.
In the offseason, Yamaguchi worked relentlessly to become a better hitter, including playing in Wong’s wood bat league.
“I tried to get in as many cuts in the batting cage as I could,” Yamaguchi said. “Working with my dad at home, I would run the sled and do anything that would make me a better athlete on the field.”
In his final year wearing a Wildcat uniform, Yamaguchi hit at a torrid .500 clip, recording team-highs in RBIs, hits, and extra-base hits. He also added two home runs batting cleanup.
“If he thinks he has a flaw in his game, he’s going to work hard at that,” Distel said. “That is the kind of work ethic great players are made of.”
Work ethic is something that runs in the Yamaguchi family. His brother Kolten plays on scholarship at Pepperdine, which defeated Arizona State 3-2 in their regional opener of the College World Series Friday afternoon. Kolten was an All-West Coast Conference first team catcher with the team in 2013.
Distel said younger brother Vohn — an incoming sophomore who also played on the Konawaena team this season — displays many of the same intangibles as his older siblings.
“In my family, baseball has always been the main sport. You cannot live in our house if you don’t play,” Yamaguchi said. “Growing up we always talked about getting a scholarship and playing in college. When (Kolten) got his, it made me want to push even harder. I wanted to live up to that level.”