Somewhere during those breezy winds and a delay between the top two teams in ILH Division II baseball, the Saints of St. Francis found a reason to sing.
As the lines were redone and the delay lingered on 17 minutes past the scheduled starting time of 6:30 p.m., the Saints paid no mind. Someone hit the play button on what sounded like an old-school boombox in the dugout. And before anyone could stop them, the Saints were lurching ahead, word for word into Neil Diamond’s 1969 hit song, “Sweet Caroline”.
There was a little mumbling here and there, which was understandable. None of these players, and possibly all of their parents, were alive when Diamond made that song one of his biggest pop-chart hits in the 1970s. The music got off track a bit when an obscure hip-hop song followed. Watching the foul lines and batters’ boxes get re-lined was interesting, but nowhere as interesting as hearing an entire dugout of high school players belt out 1970s tunes.
The next song was “Centerfield”, a perky hit song in ’85 by John Fogerty.
“Put me in coach! I’m ready to play…”
On the other side of the diamond, the Damien Monarchs were patiently waiting for the game to start. The Saints? How old school would anyone 16 years old have to be to know the lyrics to something as old as Centerfield. It has become part of the clubhouse culture for St. Francis, which won 5-1 and remained unbeaten (9-0) in the standings.
“Laakea Phillips started it with the music last year,” Saints coach Kip Akana said of the former Saint, who was a third-team, All-State selection as a senior.
It’s not the only peppy or unusual part of the Saints’ approach. On Thursday, instead of another typical practice, Akana and his staff had a meeting with their players. No physical workout. Instead, they talked.
“We met for an hour and just talked about how important it is for us to have the right attitude, to have unselfishness,” the coach said.
The down time meant a chance to rest in the midst of a busy stretch. The Saints play four games this week and four more next week. In all, St. Francis and the other three ILH D-II programs will play five games against each foe. Then comes the playoff tournament. The tourney winner will have to beat the regular-season winner two times without losing to claim the league’s only D-II state-tournament berth. The regular-season winner needs to beat the tourney victor just once in a three-game set for the crown. Damien (5-4) would need quite a run, plus a major collapse by St. Francis, to capture the regular-season title and the well-earned privileges that come with it.
For the Saints, the singing was robust, no less memorable for players and fans than the big show, the Kamehameha Schools songfest, going on simultaneously a mile down the road at Neal Blaisdell Center on Friday. What St. Francis is trying to achieve is certainly not out of reach, even just a few years into the evolution of the program, practically building it from scratch.
Jared Yara, a senior right-hander, was in command with 10 strikeouts and three walks, allowing just one run and three hits in five innings.
“He’s good. That slider was his money pitch last year, too,” Damien coach Timo Donahue said. “I’m proud of our team’s effort. That’s the first time they stayed in it to the end. We’re getting better, especially since two years ago, but we need to get sound at-bats. Only three of our guys did that. I don’t know how many times we swung at first-pitch curves in the dirt.”
To be fair, Yara has been tough on other teams, too. He has two wins over Pac-Five and a scoreless inning of work against Hanalani. In 17 innings, he has struck out 24 batters with just six walks and now has an ERA of 1.24.
On the mound, Akana also turns to sophomore James Yamasaki, who had a remarkable one-hop throw from right field to throw out a runner on Friday night. Shortstop Bubba Akana is also a hurler, as is Makana Poole, the starting catcher. Second baseman Zach Alcos pitched two scoreless innings to finish the game against Damien.
“Our team is young, but we play some pretty decent ball,” coach Akana said.
This is true, and extra-base hits aren’t the only thing these Saints can belt out. Somehow, more than 30, even close to 50 years later, the infectious spirit of those old tunes wafted through a bunch of boys who wanted nothing more than to play the game. And time, as it rarely does, froze still, people grinned, a few sang along and, thankfully, nobody’s eardrums were injured during those 17 minutes.
On and off the field, they may not be perfect, but it’s all from the heart. The Saints are making sweet, sweet music.