(Note: Here’s a longer version of today’s feature story on Kalei Contrades and Derek Nakasato of Saint Louis’ baseball and football teams.)
There are saints among us.
Some of them may not have recognized titles or public adoration. They are, however, standing in the same line in the grocery store with us. Driving their children to the same school each morning. Caring for their aging parents 24/7. Taking out the garbage practically every night.
They do it all day after day not because a voice among us rattles off a litany or to-do list to them. Things get done because they are their brother’s keeper. At Saint Louis High School, brotherhood has never meant so much as it does today.
When the baseball season ended for the Crusaders last spring, some stomachs turned and heads shook in disbelief. The Interscholastic League of Honolulu champions were ousted by Baldwin at the state tourney in Wailuku’s historic Iron Maehara Stadium. The Crusaders and first-year coach George Gusman let reality sink in for a few moments. By the time they returned to Oahu, the next chapter had begun.
Kalei Contrades and Derek Nakasato were among the gentlemen of Kalaepohaku who didn’t skip a day. In the next 180 days of the offseason — not including football season, which they both played — the two seniors were completely engulfed in the obsession of their choice. With only Sundays off, they were in the weight room and batting cages, on the field sharpening their fielding and pitching. In the meantime, they scored in the classroom; Nakasato has a 3.5 grade-point average and Contrades a 3.2.
“There’s nothing like Saint Louis brotherhood,” Nakasato said. “You’re with each other every single minute of the day.”
Most times, players met up for informal workouts at the school. Other times, they travel — Contrades lives in Ewa — to meet Nakasato in Kaneohe for some cuts in a batting cage.
That is where the first of saints stepped into Nakasato’s life a few years ago when everything changed. Stephen Moriguchi put the cage together for Derek. With five children of their own, Moriguchi and his wife, Susan, brought Derek, their nephew, into their home seven years ago. Derek’s mom, Iris, died while he was in fourth grade after contracting a rare flesh-eating disease. Eight months later, his dad Gary suffered a fatal heart attack.
Derek and his brother Davin, 10 years his senior and attending college at the University of San Diego, were suddenly on their own.
“My dad was super, super strict about being humble. That was dad right there,” Nakasato said. “My mom always found a way to put a smile on people’s faces. I was her baby. She always wanted to cuddle.”
The transition to life without parents could have been shocking or detrimental, but the Moriguchi ohana became more than just Derek’s favorite extended family. They became his safety net and lifeline.
“Growing up, I would always sleep over at their house,” he said. “I’m smack dab in the middle of them (age-wise).”
He moved on, one step at a time. Baseball, which he began playing in the Kapahulu PAL (Shetland) league, was a constant. Gary Nakasato was a big baseball fan. So was Uncle Stephen, who had no idea that his path would cross again years later with a classmate (Saint Louis ’69), Gusman.
Today, Saint Louis is No. 1 in the Star-Advertiser Baseball Top 10, 12-0 in the ILH with Contrades providing great pitching and clutch play at third base. Nakasato’s performance as a leadoff hitter has been prolific. The HPU-bound right fielder is hitting .568 in league play, including an 8-for-11, four-RBI performance against No. 2 Mid-Pacific during last week’s three-game sweep. Contrades, who signed with San Jose State in the offseason, is hitting .552. He was 5-for-10 against MPI and allowed just one run in six innings on the mound.
The numbers are hefty, but year-round commitment is what separates the Crusaders from most state-title contenders. Contrades embraced his duty as the team’s new ace after Christopher Chung graduated. Instead of taking fewer reps as a third baseman or hitter, he added to his training time. At an invite-only camp at Stanford, he picked up the technique for a third pitch, a slurve.
“He’s very good at it,” Gusman said, “because he can throw it for strikes no matter what the count is.”
It all begins, though, right at home. Contrades, Nakasato, Kaeo Aliviado and so many of the Crusaders won’t let their teammates down. They also draw strength from each other.
“Derek is a really strong guy. He’s happy all the time,” Contrades said.
Several of the baseball Crusaders were key contributors to Saint Louis’ state football championship last season. Some of them, like Nakasato and Contrades, weren’t prototypical specimens. At 5-foot-9, the two standouts erased any doubts through sheer will. Last summer, after morning football workouts, they’d switch over to the diamond for afternoon American Legion games.
“They were totally tired,” Gusman recalled. “But they gave it all they had.”
Contrades won’t stop marching forward and proving disbelievers wrong.
“You just have to chase your dreams. Nothing is impossible. You work hard and you can accomplish anything you want to be no matter how big or small you are,” he said. “Coach is like a grandpa to all of us. He loves us, but when it’s time to work, it’s time to work, especially on routine plays.”
An exciting week ended with a quiet session in the Moriguchis’ batting cage on Sunday. Teammates taking their cuts on a day off. Their coach is always proud of their maturity.
“It’s just awesome, you know? I kind of struck up a nice relationship with a lot of my older players,” Gusman said. “We can talk about a lot of things on and off the baseball field. (Derek) is not afraid to call me at any time, which is very rewarding as a coach.”
Gusman will watch sometimes as Nakasato takes a knee and says a brief prayer before each game. For his mom. His dad. Grandma and grandpa.
“They’re always in my heart throughout the whole game,” he said. “Because I miss them so much.”
Now and then, Derek and Davin go to Sandy Beach Park.
“We scattered their ashes in the ocean,” Derek said of his parents. “We’ll go there at 7 o’clock in the morning and have swim with mom and dad.
“You just have to look at the good in everything. You can’t look at the bad. Life is too short.”
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser