The Kansas-Hawaii Hardball Connection
May 3, 2012
View Kansas Jayhawks’ Hawaiian Baseball Connection in a larger map
By Matt Franzblau, Kansas Media Relations
The Aloha and Sunflower states may be separated by an ocean, four time zones and more than 3,000 miles, but for a quartet of KU ballplayers it might as well be home
At first glance Kansas and Hawaii might not have that much in common, but if one were to take a closer look, specifically inside Hoglund Ballpark during a Kansas home baseball game, they might have second thoughts.
That’s because a total of four Hawaiian-born ballplayers are currently on the KU roster. The Kansas/Hawaii baseball connection is certainly unique, but it is nothing new. The Jayhawks have had at least one native of the Aloha State on their roster since 2007 and are the only team in the Big 12 with one currently on their squad. So why the special relationship? It can all be traced back to 2005, when KU Head Coach Ritch Price was coaching a Hawaiian boy named Wally Marciel at the Stanford All-Star Camp in California.
“Wally was on my team during his junior year of high school,” Price remembered. “So when we recruited him it was really interesting because it is a state where families literally pick the coach that they trust when they send their son to go to school.”
Marciel found that line of trust and connection with Coach Price early on in the recruiting process.
“I just fell in love with his coaching style and enthusiasm,” Marciel recalled. “The way he backed up his players, he really had passion for the game.”
While he was excited to play for his new coach, the native Hawaiian found where he was going to be a bit of an adjustment.
“It sounds silly, but I didn’t really know where the state of Kansas was on a map,” Marciel admitted. “I always knew I wanted to get away from home and experience something different and Kansas is a pretty unique place because you experience four seasons unlike Hawaii, where there is just rain and sunshine.”
After four baseball seasons of being the lone islander on the KU roster, the left-handed pitcher received some welcomed company in the McCarthy Family Clubhouse with the addition of Honolulu native Ka’iana Eldredge prior to the 2011 season.
“It was a great feeling to have another Hawaiian kid on the team,” Marciel recollected. “I really did not know him until a half a year before I knew he was coming, but I actually had played for his dad and his uncle (back in Hawaii).”
“We had never seen each other or hung out before, but the connection that Wally and I had was real easy,” Eldredge recalled.
Sophomore Ka’iana Eldredge celebrates with teammate Jimmy Waters last season.
It was not until 2012 that Eldridge and the Jayhawks welcomed in their biggest crop of Hawaiians, as three freshmen would join their fellow statesmen in Lawrence.
“Having these three come this year has been an even better experience because now we all know each other,” Eldredge explained.
The three teammates the sophomore speaks of are pitcher Robert Kahana (Ewa Beach), infielder Justin Protacio (Pearl City) and outfielder Michael Suiter (Kailua). The sudden influx of Hawaiian blood into the KU program has brought along with it some mannerisms from the island that the mainlanders just can’t help but notice.
“‘Ya, ya’ is the one thing Robert Kahana says all the time,” Coach Price explains about the tropical slang he has incorporated into his daily vocabulary. “And that just means okay.”
While that may be the only word that has stuck with their coach, the Hawaiian four uses a whole slew of island words for their teammates to learn.
“Usually when I say goodbye, I like to use the term ‘shoots’,” Protacio explained. “When I used to text it to teammates, they would send back a question mark asking what does that mean?”
“‘Kayden’, meaning ‘okay then’ is another one we use,” Kahana said. “The slang we speak is known as ‘Pidgin’
But it is not just words alone that have made their way through the Jayhawk clubhouse. Hawaiian cuisine is slowly being introduced to ballplayers used to eating ribs and burnt ends, just miles from the barbeque capital of America.
“Rice in general has been pretty big,” Protacio said. “We usually eat rice with every meal, kind of like how you guys have mashed potatoes here.”
A dish called ‘Kailua Pig’ as well as ‘Spam Musubi’ (spam and rice wrapped in seaweed) are two of the quartet’s favorite meals. Unfortunately those pair of dishes have not become quite as popular as their island lingo, but another Hawaiian past time certainly has.
“Rob and I would always play the Ukulele on road trips,” Eldredge said. “So we actually taught some guys on the team how to play and they went out and bought some.”
While baseball is baseball no matter what state or time zone one is in, those island Jayhawks are aware their culture comes with a few stereotypes which they are eager to shake.
“Everyone thinks that just because we are from Hawaii we are laid back and sit on the beach all day, but we are some of the hardest workers on the team,” Protacio explained. “If we’re late for something you will hear, ‘oh you’re on Hawaiian time'”.
“What’s interesting is that they have a little bit of easy-going personality, but at the same time they can be really competitive,” Price commented about his crop of 808’ers (the state’s area code). “It’s like a light switch is turned on when they start to play the game.”
“Our state of mind and the way we play ball back in Hawaii is that we don’t back down from anybody,” Eldredge proclaimed. “So we have a lot of pride in coming from Hawaii to play ball here.”
Wally Marciel was the first Hawaiian native to play for Ritch Price at Kansas. He joined the Jayhawks in 2007.
Quirky cuisines sayings and stereotypes aside, the four Hawaiian Jayhawks see their presence on the team as a unique opportunity to play college baseball, but also live the way they were taught growing up.
“We live by ‘Aloha’ and that means just being nice to everybody and helping people out,” Eldredge explained. “In our Hawaiian spirit and in our culture we always welcome in people with open arms.”
If that’s the case, then Coach Price has definitely adopted that stately spirit, with his yearly recruiting trips to the island.
“I think if the coach puts in the effort to come all the way out to Hawaii to see you that is like the deal maker,” Eldredge thought.” “Skip (Coach Price) has done a really good job starting out with Wally and making it back every year.”
“It’s interesting because it almost as if it is not a natural fit with our weather conditions compared to theirs,” explained Coach Price of the unconventional relationship. “But it goes back to it all being about family. If you treat your players right and they have great experience then you are going to get one guy this year (coming to KU) and another guy the next year.”
If that adage holds true, then Jayhawk fans should get used to saying ‘Aloha’ at Hoglund Ballpark for years to come.