Sometimes if you put the work in and you remain positive, things have a way of working out in a nice package for you.
Take Kila Ka‘aihue, for instance. He spent 14 years playing professional baseball, including parts of four seasons in the majors. The work … it’s in.
Staying positive? Well, he has 4-year-old twins and they were the reason why he decided to call it a career and come home. Simply put, he set out to be the best baseball player he can be and now he wants to be the best father and husband he can be, and that is the most important thing in his life right now.
Baseball? Well, that’s there, too. He loves it too much to just say goodbye.
On his return to Hawaii and family, things kind of worked itself out to where he gets to be part of baseball pretty much every day. Kaaihue happened to move to about a mile away from Kaiser High School, and when the Cougars’ head coaching job became available, it was kismet at work.
“I wanted to stay in the game of baseball,” Ka‘aihue told Hawaii Prep World on Wednesday night. “The only way is to give back, be a coach, to bring back everything that I’ve learned to the kids of Hawaii for their benefit.
Paying it forward.
“The job was available, I was a mile away, there were whispers around town and people were asking me if I was interested and if I would be willing to coach at Kaiser. It was kind of a timing thing how it all worked out. The more I thought about it and weighed the pros and cons, I realized that I really, really really want to be a part of this. I went to the interview, I prayed, it was special how it worked out. God kind of just opened the doors to provide a venue to keep me in the game and be home with the kids. It’s cool. It’s funny how things work out. The way it all happened kind of took on its own personality.”
“I retired (from the pros) this past Thanksgiving,” he said. “The whole reason was just the distance and time away from my family. Being a father really changed me. I would be talking to the twins on the phone and they would ask, ‘Dad, when are you coming home?’ There’s only so much of that I could take.”
“How awesome it was to me,” Ka‘aihue added, referring to baseball. “And how it provided for me and showed me the world. I only have one chance to be a father and I wasn’t going to give up on that or trade it for anything. As big decisions go, it was one of the easiest I’ve ever made. I don’t feel like I’m missing out. I’m upgrading, actually.
“I may not have had that dream career that I once imagined as a little boy, but it was plenty good enough. My new dream is to be the best father in the world.”
Altogether, Ka‘aihue — a former ‘Iolani standout — played 126 games in the majors and batted .221 with 15 home runs and 46 RBIs. He played for the Kansas City Royals in 2008, 2010 and 2011 and for the Oakland Athletics in 2012.
Ka‘aihue had more than 100 coaches in his baseball career and he has taken the most important lessons from all of them. Three in particular — his dad, Lenn Sakata and Bob Melvin — were the biggest influences.
“My dad (Kila Ka‘aihue Sr.) is right there at the top,” he said. “He gave me my first ball and put the first bat in my hand and coached me all the way to last season when I retired. He was always there to influence me. Lenn Sakata (a former major leaguer and former standout at Kalani) was a huge mentor for many things, including mechanics, technique and work ethic. My dad built the foundation and Lenn built the house.
“I’ve been blessed with really, really really good managers. Bob Melvin, when I was with Oakland, had an admirable coaching style. People talk about having a presence where you walk in a room and people turn. Bob has presence. He never makes it like he is a boss or superior. He does not talk down to people and has a way of encouraging and also making sure that you understand he isn’t a teammate or a friend. He has a unique ability as a person to demand respect in a way that isn’t authoritative.
“I want to take a handful of what I learned from my dad, Lenny and Bob and make it into my own. My dad always told me to listen to everybody, take what’s important and put it in your pocket.”
By now, Ka‘aihue’s pockets are overflowing with baseball knowledge just waiting to be passed on to Kaiser baseball players in the spring and beyond.
“This (coaching) is brand new to me,” he said. “I’ve given lessons and done clinics and I’ve played on a team for so long, so I’ve seen and heard every language that you can in baseball. Now it’s going to be about taking that information I know and putting it into words where kids can understand it. Every coach is saying and teaching similar things, but not all of the messages get across. That’s the beauty and the challenge. Take what I know and maximize it for the kids. It’s going to be fun and I’m looking forward to this new chapter.”
Ka‘aihue has held one parent meeting and he’s slowly meeting up with the baseball players, who are getting acclimated to a new school year and/or playing a fall sport.
“I’ve been at the school every day, working on the field and the facility, cleaning it up the best I can,” he said.
The Kaiser baseball program will run the concession stand on Friday, Aug. 19, and Saturday, Aug. 20, for JV and varsity football games at Kaiser Stadium as a fundraiser for Cougars athletics.
“If anybody would like to support the football and baseball teams and Kaiser athletics, we would greatly appreciate it,” Ka‘aihue said.
The Cougars play Campbell that Friday in an Oahu Interscholastic Association Division I game (the JV game starts at 5 p.m., with varsity game to follow at 7:30). Kalani meets Kaimuki on the 20th in an OIA D-II game (the JV game starts at 4 p.m., with the varsity game to follow at 6:30.