In Hawaii, “ohana” means family.
Baseball on the island is all a part of one big ohana. Just ask thirty-year Little League® volunteer Gerald Oda.
“Ohana for us is family,” said Mr. Oda. “And it is not just blood family. Family is everybody. Everyone that we have a connection with. When we say you’re part of our ohana, it means that you’re part of us.”
Little League teams across the island state are hopeful to once again bring their ohana onto the mainland and make it again to the Little League World Series.
Over the years in Williamsport, Hawaii has had great success on the field. They’ve made 14 Little League Baseball® World Series Tournaments. And they’ve won three of them. The first win came in 2005, then again in 2008, and most recently in 2018.
Sean Yamaguchi was a captain of that 2018 team. Now he’s playing baseball in high school and can reflect on what it meant to represent his state. Like many from Hawaii would, he talked about making sure they played the game the way it is meant to be played: with heart, grit, and sportsmanship.
“We wanted to do it the right way – show the aloha spirit. And I think we did that well,” said Sean. “I think that everyone got the message of what we were about.”
He added that representing the state doesn’t mean more pressure.
“We just play baseball how it’s supposed to be played,” said Sean. “You know, we have fun out there. We have no pressure on us because, I mean, we have nothing to lose. We’re from Hawaii. We’re from such a small place that we can go out there and have fun.”
As great as Hawaii have been on the field, their presence is Williamsport has meant just as much off of it – to opponents, volunteers, and everyone who has watched them play the game their way.
Twice in the last four years, Hawaii has been the recipient of the Jack Losch Little League Baseball World Series Team Sportsmanship Award, given to the team that best displays sportsmanship on and off the field during their time in Williamsport.
Kevin Bagoyo has seen it up close twice. The first time was as a player with Pearl City Little League in 1988, then again, he coached his son, Zack, on the 2021 team from Honolulu Little League. He says the aloha spirit is a big reason why they’ve won the Jack Losch Award twice in the last three years.
“The spirit is just showing a lot of love and kindness to anyone that we meet,” said Mr. Bagoyo. “Not only are we able to share gifts with them, but it also makes us happy as well to able to see the joy on their faces when we give them some candy or some leis and some flowers.”
Mr. Oda echoed Mr. Bagoyo and added the reason why.
“The one thing that we all do, and it’s common to Hawaii teams, is that as soon as we know we are traveling to a tournament, we bring gifts as a sign of appreciation,” said Mr. Oda. “We do this for the people that support the tournament and as a sign of appreciation for our opponent. They’re the reason we are there.”
They show that same appreciation within the team as well. Both Mr. Oda and Mr. Bagoyo spoke of how important it is to make the tournament fun for the players.
“Even among the coaches, we always remind ourselves it’s about creating positive memories for these kids,” said Mr. Oda. “And reminding them that, whether we win or lose, we really can’t control it. But we can definitely control how we perform and how we behave both on and off the field.”
Sean said that the coaching staff did a good job of instilling the island’s ideals into them. He’s taken the aloha spirit he learned growing up in Hawaii around the game of baseball and brought it forward with him.
“The aloha spirit is just being yourself, having fun on the field, off the field, making new friends,” said Sean. “And I think with the Little League World Series experience, we really got to show our aloha spirit to the whole world. And that’s what I loved about it.”
Over the years in Williamsport, Hawaii has shown the world their aloha spirit and invited all of us into their ohana.
NOTE: As the world gears up to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Little League Baseball® World Series (LLBWS) in August 2022, Little League® International will feature content such as this in a series of franchises that highlights some of the key moments, memories, and people that have made the LLBWS one of the most iconic sporting events in the world. For more information, visit LittleLeague.org/75.