(Here’s the extended version of today’s feature story on ‘Iolani baseball player Christian Donahue. The shorter version is here.)
If there’s life in the ‘Iolani dugout, nobody could’ve sensed it a few short months ago.
But coach Brent Shimokawa insisted on energy. Spirit. Confidence. So the Raiders pulled out of their early-season slump, made a major run late and even upset No. 1 Mid-Pacific in the ILH tournament.
By Saturday, ‘Iolani pulled out a remarkable 2-1 win over Saint Louis in 13 innings. Now the Raiders are Maui-bound, ready to face Kailua on Wednesday in the opening round of the Wally Yonamine Foundation/HHSAA Baseball State Championships.
But the verve and the nerve came from somewhere. The lively atmosphere, the drive to survive, a lot of it comes from players like third baseman Kainoa Fong, who comes up with catchy cheers — including one borrowed from his days as a middle schooler at Saint Louis.
Nobody, though, has the fire quite like Christian Donahue. The junior shortstop leaves it all on the field, occasionally triggering cross-field banter against foes. For the most part, though, Donahue is as mellow off the field as he is feisty on it. But make no bones about it, he has embraced a role as one of the toughest competitors on the field, and backs it up with tremendous work ethic.
“He gets his love for baseball from his father,” Raiders coach Brent Shimokawa said of Timo, a star shortstop at Damien, then the University of Washington. “(Christian) used to be a quiet leader who led by example, but this year, he’s been more vocal. Because of his accomplishments and his demeanor, a lot of our underclassmen look up to him. He had his challenges early in the year, but he kept his nose to the grindstone.”
Donahue, a switch hitter, homered twice during the ILH playoffs to help spur the Raiders. He did it with his 5150 bat, a tool he had retired earlier in the year. He says bats are usually flat and dead after 500 hits. His 5150, or as he calls it, “SISO”, has at least 1,000 pings. And yet, he’s hitting for average and power with the two-year old, 33-inch, 30-ounce Rawlings bat, which he “retired” early in the season.
“I felt I started losing pop in it so I switched the S1 (Easton). Going up to the playoffs, I really wasn’t hitting as well, one day I saw this lying in my room so I took it to practice. It felt good and it works.”
Shimokawa grins as he talks about Donahue’s habits.
“He’s a typical baseball player. He has his whole array of superstitions, his lucky batting glove, his special way of putting on the stirrups,” Shimokawa said.
For opposing coaches, Donahue is the classic guy they hate to play against, but would love to have in their dugout.
“He’s a very talented kid, for his size, to be a switch hitter and have power, it’s just amazing,” Saint Louis coach George Gusman said. “He’s very smart. He’s experienced. He brings a lot to that team. He’s almost like Marcus Doi (of Mid-Pacific). I can’t wait for him to graduate. They’re playing very well right now and he’s a big part of that, playing much better defense.”
Practically every day, “C-boy” is in baseball mode. On weekdays, he’ll hit with his dad at home. On Sundays, he gets swings in with friends at Mililani High School. He just can’t stop.
“My dad taught me everything about baseball,” Donahue said. “He had me switch-hitting when I was 3.”
Since he turned 12, C-Boy can’t remember missing a day of batting practice. Nobody has to nag him, either, at least not in years.
“My dad would say, ‘You gotta do what it takes to be the best, and if you’re not going to put yourself in it, then you won’t be able to play to the best of your ability.’ By the time I was 12, I was motivated for my (Waipio) Little League team and tournaments,” Donahue said, recalling trips all over the mainland, including one in 2008 to Williamsport, Pa. when Waipio won the Little League World Series.
All the devotion has made him into a hitter who craves velocity.
“For me, I’d rather go against a power guy. It’s easier to sit on his fastball,” he said. “Guys like Trey Saito (MPI) are tougher. They command their pitches better and mix up their speeds well. Trey’s the toughest pitcher I’ve seen this year. Mid-Pac is pretty much the only team that gets first-strike pitches on every batter.”
Timo was at that bizarre game against Saint Louis on Saturday. Like the ‘Iolani bench, the former player was quick to point out to the Raiders that a Crusader had failed to advance to the next base on what had been the game-winning hit. It was a play, with ‘Iolani getting a late force-out at second, that turned everything around.
“I feel bad for him (the baserunner) and Saint Louis. They played a great game against us,” Donahue said.
The Raiders know the ups and downs of the game well. They struggled through the start of ILH season, often gloomy in the dugout during a five-game losing streak and a 2-6 record. But maturity set in, particularly after second baseman Austin Darmawan lost his father, Ron, to a heart attack while on a jog with friends.
“We learned to stick together as a family and play for each other. Austin and his dad have been the motivation for us to keep on going,” Donahue said. “Austin’s having a really good year. He deserves it. He’s one of the toughest guys you’ll ever see. As teammates, we kept backing him up. His dad was one of our biggest fans and one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.”
So there they are. The Raiders won’t give up. They keep cheering each other on.
“Coach (Shimokawa) said everyone needs to contribute, to focus and have their heads in the game. So we do that by cheering for our teammates,” Donahue said.
Down the road, he’ll pack his bags for Oregon State, which was one of a big group of schools that have been interested in Donahue since his freshman year. He turned down schools like Washington and Hawaii. Going pro is still a possibility when he graduates next year.
“The only way I’d go pro right away is to be a high-round pick. If I go pro and it doesn’t work out, I wouldn’t have anything to fall back on whereas if I go to college to play, and then go pro, if I’m not successful, I have something to fall back on,” Donahue said.
He’s carrying the usual heavy load of homework at ‘Iolani well with a 3.3 grade-point average. Through their younger years, Donahue and his siblings were homeschooled by his mother, Raena.
He applied to Punahou before eighth grade.
“I thought I was going to Punahou, then one day there was an ‘Iolani booklet on the table and my mom said we’re going to have a late apply to ‘Iolani,” he said. “After touring both the schools, ‘Iolani had a feel that fit me more, more family like. I felt more comfortable there. The teachers are very helpful and willing to give you their time if you’re struggling.”
For now, the goal is simple.
“We’ll go to states and give it our best,” he said. “We won’t give up. Who knows what can happen on Maui.”