There is a bit of a forest behind the outfield fence at Lanai’s baseball field.
Pine trees, of course, for the island’s only high school baseball team, the Pine Lads. That’s not the only big lumber in the vicinity. Naighel Calderon boomed four home runs on Saturday, going 4-for-4 with six RBIs as Lanai defeated visiting St. Anthony 10-1.
Lanai swept the Trojans over the weekend. On Friday, the Pine Lads won 10-1 in six innings as Calderon — who tops out at 84 to 86 mph — pitched a complete-game victory, striking out nine and walking two in a one-hitter. He also hit 2-for-4 with a double, three runs scored and an RBI. When he’s not pitching, he’s at shortstop or center field.
“He’s been working hard in the off-season, during the season,” Lanai coach Ricky Sanches said. “His game doesn’t emulate one person. He’s kind of his own unique athlete.”
Calderon plays football, basketball and baseball. He takes 1,000 swings every day, on or off season, sometimes with dad (Charlie) throwing to him. He travels in the offseason for baseball and plans to continue his career in college. Last summer, he played in the neighborhood of 80 games from California to Nebraska to Illinois, back to California and then on to Georgia, playing in the Perfect Game tournament. The MVP team from Hawaii also played in Spain.
“Every day was a grind. This was two-and-a-half months. Every day was a game or practice, and even after games, we had batting practice. I was focused on getting reps,” Calderon said.
Sanches sees Calderon’s fundamentals as a fielder and hitter as cornerstones for his future. It’s a package of skills that make the 5-foot-8, 165-pound senior well rounded.
“He’s really fast and has good instincts. He can hit for contact and power. He’s not a big guy, but it’s in him,” Sanches said. “Maybe the closest (comparison) would be Shane Victorino. It’s not the same swing, but he’s fast and he can play outfield, too.”
The dimensions at Lanai’s field, which is a Parks and Recreation facility, is 300 feet all around with a high fence. Tennis courts are behind left field.
“I’m not looking for him to hit home runs. Just get on base, move guys over. If it comes, it comes. He can be really productive without the home runs,” Sanches added.
Lanai is 2-2 in Division II of the Maui Interscholastic League with four games remaining before the playoffs. The Pine Lads play against St. Anthony on Friday and Saturday on Maui. Two teams from MIL D-II will qualify for the state tournament this season.
Beyond high school, Calderon has always dreamed of playing at the next level. He has a 3.5 cumulative grade-point average and is awaiting word from the NCAA Clearinghouse. Hawaii has shown some interest in him as a possible walk-on. Calderon ran a 6.2 at the UH baseball camp in December.
Park University (Ariz.) and Adams State (Colo.) are also taking a look. So did Atlanta Braves scout Dan Cox, who flew to Lanai and put Calderon through some eye and reflex tests.
“That was special. He said the best thing for me is going to college and seeing pitchers who throw 89 to 100 mph. I told him I played the whole summer at Perfect Game against kids 16 (years old) throwing 100 mph,” Calderon said. “I had a good time with him.”