He’s not just an infielder, not just a pitcher, not just a ball player.
JT Navyac isn’t even just a utility guy. He is now an ace on the mound, a multiple-tool athlete, the kind that every baseball manager — he will play at Cal State Fullerton next season — needs on a successful roster. After a four-hit shutout win over Punahou last week, Navyac returned to his customary spot at shortstop as the Crusaders defeated Maryknoll on Saturday to go 2-0.
Then, as expected, the ILH season was suspended due to the spread of COVID-19. Teams across the state can only hope and dream for a resumption of sports, of life, Navyac gets lots of baseball fun year-round, traveling to the mainland to play in the summer, playing American Legion ball. Sometimes, it’s simple long toss with his father, Mike, as his caddy.
Life is good, even in the face of adversity. He’s looking forward to the chance to travel again one day. Navyac will play for the Utah Marshalls, who will spend a chunk of summer in Alaskan tournaments. One day, maybe he can shoot a documentary about his roots. Navyac’s mother is from Japan. Dad is from the mainland, and before that, no one is sure where the rest of that side of the family now lives.
Sometime in the 1910s, Navyac’s great-grandfather arrived at Ellis Island, one of five brothers who sailed over the Atlantic from Poland. In the midst of the crowd, they were separated as they cloistered into different places in lines. All five got their last names spelled differently by the immigration clerks. To this day, Mike Navyac and his family have no idea where their cousins are, let alone what their names are.
“Personally, I think I’m related to people named Novak, like Nick Novak. He was a kicker. There was a guy named Novak in the NBA,” Navyac said.
Navyac was featured in Tuesday’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which you can read here.
Saint Louis baseball
Q&A / Favorites
Athlete: Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs
“His swag, his presence on the field, his passion for the game, too. His number is 9, which is my number, too, but that’s also my birthdate.
Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
“The past two summers, I’ve been going to Dodgers games. My summer ball coach (Benny Bonilla of TB SoCal) has connections so we go onto the field and got to meet players. He knows (Dodgers manager) Dave Roberts because his son played for the same program. The past New Year’s, Cody Bellinger came down for the camps. He stayed with my other summer ball coach, Donny Kadokawa of Kado Baseball. I got to spend three days with him.“
Toughest opposing batter: Kalae Harrison of Punahou
“He’s been playing against high competition his whole life, especially this last summer. Me and him played each other in summer ball. We both made Area Code so he’s faced really good pitching. That first at-bat that I faced him, I threw a high, outside fastball and he took it the other way. He also battles through a count. He has good baseball IQ.”
Food (at home): Mom’s homemade gyoza
“My mom (Kei) buys the wraps, but the pork filling, she makes. It’s awesome! Pan fry. I’ve got to learn to make some stuff.”
Food (eating out): Zippy’s Korean fried chicken
“You can’t go wrong with that.”
“Staying with friends and family. I don’t really have time. I’m pretty good at ping pong. I play with my dad. He’s pretty good.”
Movie: Rookie of the Year
“Gary Busey’s in the movie. I’ve probably seen it 25 times at least. I love that movie.”
TV show: The Office
“I’ve probably watched the whole series, like, six times. It’s a good show. Dwight (Rain Wilson), he’s the funny one. I think he’s the best one.”
Video game: MLB The Show
“Lately, I haven’t had time to play because the season started. I would play shooting game with all my friends, but I’m not good at it. It’s too complicated for me. They all asked me to play Fortnite with them, but I’m just not good at it. I can’t remember the buttons or anything.”
Music artist: The Green
“They played at our senior prom last night. We had prom at Aloha Tower. They’re from here.”
Teacher: Mrs. (Jo Ann) Boncales of Mid-Pacific
“My seventh grade teacher. She was like my second mom, at school.”
Class: Lunch. And Digital Media.
“I like to record stuff, make videos, montages stuff like that. My teacher is Derrick Bulatao. Our final project is a PSA, so I’m making mine about playing sports and why it’s good for you.”
Gear: Wilson A200 fielder’s glove
“It’s a shortstop, third base glove. It’s 11.5. Love the leather smell. When I pitch, I use a black Rawlings. (The Wilson A200), I just got it. It’s almost broken in. I usually, my friend Caleb Lomavita, he gave me a ball with a metal pole through it, so I grab the pole and keep (pounding) it and squeezing. I got the Japan (flag) logo for my grandparents in Japan. Always remember them. Hopefully, I can use it in college. I don’t know. Fullerton is sponsored by Easton. I heard (Easton gloves) are pretty good.”
Place to relax: Bed
Motto/Scripture: Phil. 4:13
“I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.”
What mom (Kei) says
“She reminds me that I need to bring my kindness to my school and bring my fellowship to my friends.”
What dad (Mike) says
“He reminds me that he has my back and he loves me.”
What your coaches say
“They just tell us don’t forget our effort on the field, and play the game right. Coach George tells us to have fun and play for each other, and to always hustle.”
How does baseball affect your life?
“Usually right after summer ends, I’ll take a two-month break from throwing, but I’ll still be hitting and field every day, training and weight lifting. Then we start winter (American) Legion.”
What do you do to maintain your arm?
“My throwing process, I just long toss. I don’t really lift too much weights. I’ll do it to keep myself healthy, not get injured. I’ve been long tossing since seventh grade and that’s when I started getting my arm strength. Me and Caleb will meet up once in a while, but I have other friends, other teammates. I’ll grab a bucket and throw to my dad. He doesn’t throw it back. He tore his labrum a few years back.”
“I was in SoCal last summer with TB SoCal with Benny Bonilla and Ryan Thompson. I slept in 15 different beds. Caleb was my traveling buddy. Independence, getting ready for college. We were living like minor-league ball. I was staying with my friends, teammates’ parents and families. Me and Caleb, and also Javyn Pimental (of Kamehameha) would get together and go out to eat. We were washing our own clothes. Caleb’s a good cook. He makes good scrambled eggs. We go to Ralph’s, which is like Foodland here, and he would get Spam, eggs. Food’s way cheaper up there. He’d just cook stuff up. Me and Javyn would wake up, there it is. We’d also go to Costco, get muffins, stuff like that.”
Middle and elementary school
“I went to Mid-Pac for middle school. I went to Trinity Christian School in Kailua. For fifth grade, I went to Kupono Learning Center. It’s closed down now. It was on King Street. That’s what helped me get into Mid-Pac. It was specialized, taking your tests to get into private school. I liked Mid-Pac. I played my seventh and eighth grade year. I played shortstop. But it was financial. I was a pitcher only in ninth grade. I had 14 (innings pitched). I transferred to Saint Louis so I sat my sophomore year. Brutal. I transferred in the middle of my sophomore year, so I only played one game of (American) Legion. Honestly, it’s better (at Saint Louis). No distractions. Nobody cares what you look like. On Thursdays, you wear your shirt and tie. It’s just tradition. They used to do it every day, kids got sick of it, so it’s once a week.”
“I played with Sluggers Baseball. I was 10. I played youth league baseball in Kailua. I started when I was 5. My dad was my coach. We would practice at our house after our (team) practice in Kailua. We’d get swings in, hitting me ground balls, catch my pen. I used to be a catcher at that time. I went from being a catcher to a pitcher, to being a second baseman. My sixth-grade year, I moved to shortstop. With Sluggers Baseball, that was with Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s dad, Fili, and Regan Medeiros. He’s the intermediate coach at Saint Louis. Saint Louis was an option because Coach Regan helped us with that. Coach Regan told Coach Gus that we were looking (for another school). In fact, we met at Zippy’s. I think it’s one of the best decisions we’ve made. Coach Dunn (Muramaru of Mid-Pacific) really helped me.”
“My first baseball trip was to Kentucky. I was 11. My mom, dad went. This was for Sluggers Baseball. We went to the Louisville (Sluggers) bat factory. We got to see Babe Ruth’s bat, Hank Aaron’s bat. North Carolina, Arizona for USA Baseball and Perfect Game Baseball. My freshman year going into sophomore year summer, the Mid-Pac team won the Legion tournament, so we got to travel to Montana. That was very interesting. Right before that tournament, I was in North Carolina for Team USA, so I had to travel from there to Montana. Two years before that, I was in North Carolina in 14U for the nationals.”
What do you like to do that would surprise people?
“People don’t really know I’m a leader, like a captain. I’m really quiet at school. I don’t talk much, but on the field, if I see someone struggling, if they’re down, I pick them up. Every time a pitcher struggles, I call time out, go talk to them, make them laugh, forget everything. I can see when someone’s stressed out.”
“I’d go to the past, go back to Japan and hang out with my grandparents. I’d be 10. They live in Nagoya, a little south from Tokyo. I saw then in 2016 when I went to Ehime (baseball). I saw my grandma, but I didn’t see my grandpa. He was at work or something. I used to take Japanese (language class). I’d want to go into the future, 20 years from now, see where I’m at in life. I think I’m on the right path.”
“As a baseball player, the ultimate dream is winning the World Series. I want to go to the Maldives. It’s kind of like the Bahamas, but I think it’s nicer. And also, I want to go to Canada. Toronto. And I also want to see snow. I’ve never seen snow. My dad always tells me it’s nothing special, but coming from Hawaii… This summer, if everything pans out with this virus going on, I’m supposed to play with this Utah team (Utah Marshalls). We’re supposed to be traveling to Alaska to play in some tournaments. I also want to go to Sweden. My auntie has been there and she said, 2 a.m., it’s bright out.”
History and background of your name
“JT stands for Jacob Thomas. My mom wanted to name me Jake. My dad wanted to name me Thomas after his late brother, so they came to the agreement of Jacob Thomas. Best of both worlds. My middle name is Makoto. It means truth. My mom always tells me to tell the truth and be honest. I’ve lied to her sometimes when I was a kid, but mother’s instinct, she knows.”
How do you pronounce your last name?
“Nay-vee-ak. “Personally, I think I’m related to people named Novak, like Nick Novak. He was a kicker. There was a guy named Novak in the NBA.”
“TD So Cal Baseball. Also, Kado Baseball. My girlfriend, Haylee Kadokawa. Also, my parents, of course. Saint Louis, for taking me in. Also Coach Dunn (Muramaru of MPI). He helped me from sixth grade to ninth grade, getting better as a player and a person. I’d say, all my teammates and all my teachers.”