In March, a dream died for Casey Kitagawa and his teammates at Kamehameha.
In late July, a different dream came true. The right-handed pitcher committed to accept a scholarship from Loyola Marymount as senior year nears.
“I’m happy. I did not expect this, but I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited,” Kitagawa said on Saturday night during a phone call from Arizona, where his summer club team is playing in the Wood Bat National Championship. “My mom and dad, well, they’re kind of shocked because no one expected it. (LMU) didn’t see me once in person, so they’re really happy for me.”
Kitagawa accepted the offer on Thursday. He and his club team were still in San Jose at the time.
“I didn’t want to wait. I thought it was the right fit and they gave me a deadline,” he said. “I was outside in the pool at my friend’s house. I was on the phone with their head coach, Nathan Choate, I told him I was going to be heading to LMU and he was excited for me. My dad (Daryl Kitagawa) was in the house and I told him. He said, ‘Congrats.’ That place fits me so well.”
He got a close look at the LMU campus last summer when The Zoots stayed in Los Angeles en route to Arizona.
“I want to major in biochemistry. I like the head coach. The area is perfect for me,” said Kitagawa, who will be a senior this year.
Last summer, Kitagawa was part of the Zoots, a travel squad that went 52-2. With the COVID-19 virus wreaking havoc, he arrived in San Jose on June 1 for another summer with the club. However, every tournament was eventually canceled. Then came an opportunity to play in a tournament this weekend.
LMU and Kitagawa first made contact a month ago.
“I think my traveling coach, Jon Zuber (of the Zoots), he knows LMU well because my old teammate, Logan Hurd, is going there. They had video, but they’ve never seen me in person, but I guess they heard a lot of good things about me and they showed a lot of interest,” he said.
The offer came two weeks ago. Another program, the University of San Diego, was also interested, but an offer never materialized.
“I had UH as a backup plan, but LMU’s too nice not to accept,” Kitagawa said.
In two games before the spring season was cancelled, Kitagawa struck out 13 batters in eight innings against Damien and Punahou. The son of Kamehameha head coach Daryl Kitagawa throws four pitches, including a fastball that records at 84-86 mph in game conditions.
The fireballer credited pitching guru Ashkhon Kuhaulua.
“Ashkhon Kuhaulua, that’s my guy. Out of everyone, me and him, he’s helped me the most pitching-wise. I spent five days a week working with him every day, getting my craft right. He’s helped me a lot,” Kitagawa said.
Like most California campuses, LMU is keeping campus closed this fall. Classes will be fully online.
“If I’m going to take a visit there, it’ll be in December or January,” he said.
Playing this weekend in Arizona has been an oasis in a baseball desert. It took Kitagawa and his teammates some time to absorb the finality of last spring’s unexpected pandemic.
“I didn’t expect it to close down. I though Hawaii was going to get it under control. Then everything hit and was shut down. We were kind of bummed,” Kitagawa said. “At some point, you’re going to have to move on. Of course, the first two weeks of quarantine. I was really pissed. I worked my (tail) off in the fall and winter, getting ready for spring, and it gets taken away just like that. But it affected everyone, so you can’t complain.”
After two months in California, Kitagawa will return home on Tuesday. He will miss the fishing in NorCal.
“I learned how bass fish in lakes on the delta. It’s brackish water. Lures, plastic worms and stuff. I learned from Trevor Bettencourt. He’s the coach’s son. He’s a pitcher in the Phillies organization. We’re better known as buddies, not baseball brothers. He’s like a brother to me,” Kitagawa said. “It’s so nice to be on the water and relax. I caught my first bass two weeks in. You need to know how to work the bait. They’re smart, they’re finesse-ey as hell. They know what they want.”
Top 3 shows/movies
Kitagawa: “I’m not a TV or movie guy. I don’t watch Netflix.”
Top 3 foods/drinks
1. Acai bowls. “Acai bowls are fire. Anywhere I can. I usually get them at the beach, so Lanikai Juice. I’ve haven’t had one in two months. I haven’t seen it here.”
2. Ahi poke. “My mom (Danelle) usually makes it.”
3. Korean chicken from Zippy’s. “I’m craving that. I miss Zippy’s.”