Jayson Kramer was exhausted, perhaps, but entirely thrilled.
The route from college pitcher at Hawaii to pitching coach at Kamehameha has been unexpected for him. So was the route from college to teacher at Radford High School. In fact, following his career with the Rainbows, Kramer was eyeballing a future in law enforcement. Then came a chance reunion with a former teammate.
“I was trying to become a policeman and I was in the process,” he said on Tuesday afternoon.
It was an unusual post-game favor of sorts. Kamehameha had just rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the seventh inning to edge Punahou, 5-2. Kramer was still feeling the rush. A competitor never loses the thrill.
“I saw Justin Thrash at a (UH) game. He said, ‘We need a pitching guy.’ He was the hitting coach at Radford and teaches there,” Kramer said. “Once I got into coaching, wow, it’s super awesome to teach a kid something you had success with and see their success. It’s not college, but it’s a big deal for them and it’s a big deal for me. I got hooked after that.”
There are a multitude of excellent pitching coaches across the islands. The results at Kamehameha in Kramer’s first season as an assistant are more than notable. The Warriors are 8-2 in the merciless Interscholastic League of Honolulu, using pitchers in a different way, getting more out of their depth on the mound. In 10 conference games, only two teams — ‘Iolani (four) and Maryknoll (five) — have scored more than two runs on the Warriors.
Opp IP H R ER BB SO
STL 6 4 2 2 3 5
MPI 7 4 1 1 1 3
PUN 6 3 1 0 1 9
IOL 7 9 4 2 1 2
MS 7 1 2 1 5 5
IOL 7 5 2 0 0 4
MS 7 6 5 1 4 6
MPI 7 4 2 2 1 4
STL 7 7 6 5 7 4
PUN 7 4 2 1 2 6
In all, that’s 68 innings pitched, 47 hits, 25 walks, 48 strikeouts and 27 earned runs. That’s a team ERA of 2.78 — an impressive figure for any high school team, let alone a staff in the tumultuous ILH. That’s a tall order and an even taller achievement by the Kamehameha pitching staff. Players win games, and coaches lose them often enough, and somewhere, somehow, Kramer figured out how to use his knowledge to keep his fireballers in the ‘W’ column.
It almost didn’t come to that. Kramer was perfectly satisfied at Radford, where he still teaches special education geometry. But he married Joelle Perkins. She happens to be a daughter of retired Honolulu Fire Department battalion chief Tommy Perkins, who happens to be the head baseball coach at Kamehameha. Perkins is more than astute and baseball savvy. He has a persuasive, yet mild way with tone. With words.
Kramer could not say no.
“He kind of threw out a feeler every year since I began coaching. My third year, I was happy at Radford. Joelle and I got married in May (of 2016) and leading into that year, he asked again and I felt more obligated,” Kramer recalled. “Even though I love Radford, I wanted to help him develop his pitchers.”
The joy of triumph in the state’s most cut-throat baseball competition from top to bottom is not easily matched. He still misses the Rams program, but the work he has put in with his father-in-law and the staff at Kamehameha is a different world.
“If I could coach both teams, I would,” he added.
Kamehameha has almost unlimited talent and potential, young arms and experienced aces like Hunter Breault, one of the top prospects in the state. Breault is scouted regularly at games and hits 92 mph on the radar gun. The numbers up and down the staff are formidable.
Breault: 2-1, 2 saves, 1.38 ERA, 22 strikeouts and just seven bases on balls in 20 1/3 innings pitched.
Li‘i Pontes: 3-0, 0.78 ERA, 12 Ks, two BB in 18 innings.
Jace Borja: 0-0, 3.22 ERA, 0 Ks, 4 BB, 8 2/3 innings
Yet, the numbers alone don’t reflect value entirety. Borja is a crucial piece of the puzzle, a pivot man out of the bullpen, a bridge from the start to the finishing stages. Breault and Pontes are easily among the most outstanding pitches statewide, but the most valuable arm in Kramer’s blueprint might be Borja.
For Breault and the entire staff, Kramer brought some tweaks to the normal routine.
>> Fast-twichery. “Conditioning is very sprint-based. I want them to be explosive. Instead of a 45-minute jog, we do ten 100s. I want them moving quick, not slow.
>> Role status. “Their roles are the the biggest changes. Jace is the first out of the pen almost every game. I lean on him hard. His job is almost more physical than Hunter’s job. Hunter knows when he’s going to pitch. Jace and the other pitchers have to be mentally ready every game, and that’s really hard.”
>> “We’re on a seven-day cycle. I implemented a college-type (rotation), so now, we can throw any of our guys against any team. Last year, it was, we’re playing a certain team, so we have to throw this guy. Not now.
Freshman Javyn Pimental is among their flexible pitchers.
“This will keep them more fresh throughout the year instead of throwing twice a week, 90 pitches a week. The pitch-count (limit), I don’t even know because I wasn’t planning on bringing guys back after, say, three days rest on 73 pitches,” Kramer noted.
The psychology of young hurlers is another factor, and maybe that’s something a high school teacher would understand better. Having to pitch on short rest with a semi-tired arm? Kramer’s system doesn’t take that route.
“It’s super tough at the age and the point of development they’re at. They really care how they’re perceived,” he said.
The big picture isn’t so big, Kramer added, as long as the work is done day by day, rep by rep.
“Some of the things I really stress are to have a growth mind-set and get better every day. We have fun, but when you touch the ball, I want 100-percent effort and mechanics so you cam make that muscle memory. In pressure situations, you will always revert back to muscle memory,” he said.
Crossing the line to the land of successful mechanics doesn’t happen without prior preparation. Kramer didn’t take that aspect seriously until after high school.
“When I was in high school, all I wanted was to throw the ball hard. It didn’t matter where it went. I just wanted to hear the glove pop,” he said. “It wasn’t until I got to UH where everyone was throwing strikes.”
Now it is Kramer as a guru, imparting the wisdom of throwing strikes, mixing speeds, building a versatile pitching staff. On Tuesday, after six solid innings from Pontes (one earned run, four hits, five Ks, one walk in six innings), it was Breault who came to the mound to close out the bottom of the seventh. Win, save or not, it doesn’t matter to the Warriors who gets the individual credit. They’re atop the ILH standings, and the man who could’ve kept watch on the streets is perfectly happy wearing another kind of blue uniform.