At 6 feet, 3 inches, Micah Yonamine was quite the sight two years ago as a sophomore catcher for the ‘Iolani Raiders.
Skills, yes. But unusual, for sure. In the islands, most baseball players of this height wind up at first base if they’re not pitching. Or in the outfield, a la Herman Medeiros of Hilo back in the 1990s.
“We’re not going to pigeonhole guys,” Raiders coach Kurt Miyahira said.
Like Medeiros, Yonamine was a lanky athlete with uncanny abilities. He is no longer lanky, and he makes contact like very few other power hitters in the islands. On Tuesday, his onslaught against pitchers resumed with two home runs against Mid-Pacific. The short porch in left at Damon Field didn’t hurt. The signage at the left-field foul line is 327 feet and center field is a mere 333. However, both of his home runs would have cleared any big-league park.
Eight home runs. It’s a number that is profoundly mind-boggling at this point, days before the season dips into April. The rigors of being an every-game catcher haven’t seemed to cause any bit of fatigue.
“They stretch and keep lifting. I know he could be 105 pounds and still hit,” Miyahira said. “He’s got a little bit of Kris Bryant, a little Buster Posey. He’s not going up and trying to hit home runs.”
Mid-Pacific hung on for a 7-6 win in 10 innings on Tuesday, but Yonamine’s clutch connections were key to the Raiders’ comeback. They trailed 6-1 when he connected on the first homer in the sixth inning, and his second blast tied it at 6-all. The first tater came at 5:03 p.m. The second was at 5:35 p.m. He finished 3-for-5 — he flew out to left in his last at-bat in the ninth.
At 210 pounds after countless hours in the weight room, Yonamine hasn’t lost a thing by muscling up for the past two years. In fact, he is still a contact hitter who rarely strikes out. The ball just happens to have an increased velocity and arch as it leaves his bat these days. Yonamine is now batting .586 with 27 RBIs in ILH play.
“He puts in the work and I hope someone takes him in this year’s draft. No matter what level he goes, he’s going to hit. He’s a pure hitter,” Miyahira said.
It is difficult for opposing teams to walk Yonamine, who bats third in the lineup, because cleanup hitter Shane Sasaki is batting .500.
Yonamine signed with Illinois State. If he gets a favorable position in the MLB Draft, the script could change. If he stays with the collegiate route, it would be three years before he is eligible again for the draft.
“In college, I think he’s going to catch. He’ll continue to get better at it. No doubt he’ll work his butt off to become a legitimate pro catcher,” Miyahira said.
That, of course, is miles down the road. Right now, the Raiders are 8-2 in the ILH chase. Punahou outlasted St. Francis 4-1 on Tuesday, then sat beyond the outfield fence at Damon Field to watch the Raiders and Owls.
“We can do better,” Yonamine said. “We got picked off, kicked the ball around. It’s nothing to hang our heads about. There’s lots of season left.”
Eight homers in 10 games — that’s nearly half of his total base hit count (17) — is phenomenal for one player, but the culture of ‘Iolani’s senior-heavy squad isn’t about individual numbers.
“We talk about the fun stuff. This whole thing is about each other and not just one guy. Whatever we do is for each other,” Miyahira said.
Even with the long balls, one of the more memorable moments of the game came when Yonamine went after a pitch in the dirt. It bounced at least twice before he got his hands on it, and the baserunner was long gone. He bounced a throw to shortstop Shaydon Kubo, who then raced to second base and extended to make a miraculous tag for the out. How does any catcher have the wherewithal to make a throw like that to a moving target? At 6-3 or 5-3, Yonamine has that certain knack.
He strolls around his teammates like any other, easy going and smiling. Maybe it’s the years of packing on the armor of a catcher that keeps him grounded. Or maybe he is just one of the latest in a line of Raider standouts who has “One Team” in his DNA.