Baseball is one of America’s favorite passtimes, and ‘Iolani’s baseball program has become one of the most respected in both the Interscholastic League of Honolulu (ILH) and the state. One senior in particular -- Shane Sasaki ’19 -- has helped ‘Iolani win with his gifted hitting and athleticism. Sasaki has risen above the competition to not only be considered by collegiate programs, but even professional MLB franchises. This season, Sasaki posted a .565 batting average with 35 hits and five home runs to accompany a team leading 26 runs. With the amount of success he has had on the plate, many baseball media outlets believe that there is a good chance of Sasaki being drafted immediately out of high school in as high as the second round. While being drafted young does not mean instant success in the majors, the fact that Sasaki has garnered the skillset to be considered by professional teams at only 18 years old is remarkable. To understand how he became such a highly regarded prospect, Sasaki graciously offered his time to speak with Imua and share his baseball journey.
Sasaki has always had a sports background, ranging from bowling to basketball. However, baseball always stood out as a sport at which he excelled. He started swinging the bat at the age of five and never gave it up, and by seventh grade year he was committing more of his time on the baseball field, practicing at the plate even during the offseason.
“I started realizing that baseball is something that could help get me into college, or even be my career one day,” explained Sasaki. “It just gradually became my sport, and I grew to love it.”
As his passion for the sport increased, so did his ability at the plate. By freshman year, Sasaki became one of the best young hitters in the ILH. So much so that he was pulled up to the Varsity Baseball team to learn under more experienced coaches and players. Head Coach Kurt Miyahira has been one of the greatest influences in Sasaki’s journey.
For years now, Coach Kurt has taught ‘Iolani baseball players the correct technique and attitude Raiders should exhibit on the field while offering them the opportunity to get looked at on the next level, whether that be collegiate or professional.
“Coach Kurt is just always going to be sticking his neck out for you,” said Sasaki. “He’s going to try to take the next step for you to get to where your dream is. He’s always telling me what I need to do or setting up workouts so that some of my teammates and I can be looked at by scouts.”
The Class of 2019 has been a particularly special year for Coach Kurt, as he has helped form one of the most highly regarded high school programs in the state, headed by ‘Iolani seniors Micah Yonamine, Jacob Hinderleider, and Sasaki. However, standing at a respectable 10-5 record with playoffs in sight, Sasaki credits the whole team and its chemistry for ‘Iolani’s success
“This team, we’ve been together since seventh grade, and we we’ve known each other since fourth grade,” said Sasaki. “We were all rivals on different teams, and then it just so happened that all of us just went to ‘Iolani. We’ve been playing together for a long time, so right now, senior year, we’re just having fun, living in the moment.”
Living in the moment has been a point focus for Sasaki this year, as his uncertain future lies in front of his doorstep. Coming off a crushing semi-final playoff loss last year, Sasaki, along with his teammates, have solely focused on doing their best to reach their full potential. However, with scouts watching his every move, it can be intimidating and stressful at times for Sasaki to focus on doing his best. One dip in production can mean “life and death” for someone in his situation, but Sasaki tries to keep a cool mindset.
“I try not to let it affect me, but it’s definitely a factor that sometimes I would press, or tell myself, ‘Oh, I have to do good!’ I try not to think about it, but instead focus on my game now… After high school, we don’t know what’s gonna happen. This is the last time we’re going to wear ‘Iolani jerseys, so I just want to do good for our team and my teammates.”
With one game remaining before the regular season ends, Sasaki is hoping to make his last year the most memorable by raising the black Baseball State Champions banner with his teammates. So long as he performs well and enjoys his last few high school days with his team, Sasaki knows that things will eventually work out for the best. His dream outcome though, like many high school baseball players, is to be drafted in the upcoming 2019 MLB Draft. Moreover, if he could land with his favorite team, the Boston Red Sox, it would be a dream come true.
As for the next generation of Raiders, Sasaki only hopes that the current juniors and sophomores can look at the senior’s hard work and learn from their success.
“I just hope they carry the traditions we’ve brought here, like hard work. We’re always out there hitting and taking extra cuts, and I just hope they continue to do that. Hopefully the seniors set a good example for them to follow.”
The future seems bright for Shane Sasaki, and if everything falls into place, he might appear on the big screen sooner rather than later. At the end of the day though, it all comes back to hard work and determination on his part. So long as he continues to perform at an elite level, Sasaki can make his dream of playing professional baseball a reality.