The player known as “Matt the bat” came to the plate with the bases loaded and his teammates and the fans shouting his nickname.
Matt Tsutsui is his real name and he promptly knocked the baseball over Damien center fielder Christian Capinia’s head for a three-run triple.
It gave Hanalani — a small private school in Mililani playing its first year of high school baseball — a 3-0 lead Friday in its third-regular season game. Although the Royals ended up losing 7-4 to the Monarchs at Hans L’Orange Park and remained winless, the enthusiasm and the outcome of that at-bat showed that the team is ready to give its foes some serious competition.
Tsutsui, an outfielder, credited third baseman Reyn Romero with giving him the “Matt the bat” nickname last year, when they both played for Pac-Five.
“Before, I didn’t really like it that much,” Tsutsui said about the nickname. “I just wanted to be called Matt. It (the moniker) works now.”
Tsutsui, who bats in the fifth spot, went 2-for-4 on Friday.
“We need improvement on our defense and in not making mental errors,” Tsutsui said. “If we can do that, we’ll earn some W’s and compete (in ILH Division II). Offensively, we’re all right.”
Another Tsutsui, coach Brian Tsutsui, Matt’s dad, sees potential in the Royals.
“Most of the players have played baseball all their lives,” he said. “It’s a matter of shaking off the rust. We’ve only had three weeks of practice. We’re a small school and we’re just getting our (baseball) footing now. We should be able to clean things up (Hanalani made four errors against Damien).
“This is just such a good experience for our kids. The school is 100 percent behind us, so we want to make the school proud. They are really fun to coach.”
Coach Tsutsui was the ILH D-II coach of the year with Pac-Five last season. Matt Tsutsui, Romero, catcher Ryllen Abeshima, second baseman Aaron Leong, shortstop Cyan Garma and center fielder/pitcher Kenan Cooper all switched (teams, not schools) from the Wolfpack to the Royals this season.
It wasn’t so easy to leave an established program behind and join something brand new.
“At first, I was skeptical,” Abeshima said. “It was a really hard transition, but I accepted it. And this is a bunch of good guys and I’m happy and blessed to have this opportunity.”
A senior and a natural leader on the field, Abeshima was pleased with the team’s attitude throughout all of Friday’s game and just as thrilled to have a solid fan base behind the team.
“We all picked each other up,” he said. “And we are really thankful for that (fan support).”
And what are Abeshima’s thoughts about “Matt the bat?”
“He can hit. A clutch batter,” he said.
There were several Bad News Bears moments in the field — all stuff that Tsutsui, his staff and players feel can be ironed out with more practice. Drops. Balls going under gloves. Throwing to the wrong cutoff man.
Abeshima talked about continuing to build chemistry, and judging by Friday’s performance and cohesiveness — despite a losing effort — it appears there’s already a lot to build on.
The Royals were in the game the whole way and started to forge a rally in the top of the seventh that was snuffed out by a double play.
And when the Royals were trailing just 5-4 in the fourth, the Monarchs were fortunate to get their final two runs on Kana Schuman‘s deep drive to center that Cooper appeared to make a running stab of. However, as Cooper continued on after reaching and gloving the ball, he fell and rolled over and the ball popped out.
As first-year Damien coach Tim Donahue said, “We were lucky to have scored when we had the chances to score.”
The Royals may be 0-3, but the season is young and the determination and effort is there.
“We have a lot of players coming off playing other sports and we have a lot of first-year players, including three guys learning how to play,” coach Tsutsui said. “But everybody is important. It’s important to fill out the team and have bodies on the bench.”