Photo Credit: ScoringLive
When Saint Louis High School won the 2014 Hawai‘i State High School Baseball Championship at Les Murakami Stadium on May 23, it marked the first time in four decades that the Crusaders took home the championship trophy. The last time it was placed in Saint Louis’ trophy case was 1974 — something only the old-timers from the ’40s and ’50s remember. Back then, Francis Funai’s Crusaders were winning baseball championships year after year.
Funai died 15 years ago, but his influence lives on in people like current Crusaders coach George Gusman. In the 1960s, Gusman was learning baseball from Frances Funai. What fans witnessed at Les Murakami Stadium might have been the passing on of the Francis Funai legacy.
Probably the brightest star on the Crusader squad was a pitcher named Jordan Michiru Yamamoto from Pearl City. I think we’ll be hearing a lot more about this young man in the future.
Yamamoto led a crew of Saint Louis pitchers, including Pono Anderson and Peyton Oshiro, in allowing only one single run in the four-game series, which was played on four successive days. On Day One of the tournament, Saint Louis trounced Roosevelt, 13-0. On Day Two, the Crusaders won over Big Island champion Waiäkea, 2-0, in a classic pitcher’s duel. On Day Three, Gusman’s players allowed OIA champion Campbell one run, but went on to beat them, 3-1. On Day Four, the Crusaders beat up on the tired arms of Mililani, 10-0.
The defining game was Saint Louis’ quarterfinal match-up against Waiäkea, which pitted the top two high school pitchers of 2014 against each other. Waiäkea was led by southpaw Kodi Medeiros, who many predict will go high in this year’s Major League Baseball draft, possibly in the first round. Medeiros throws from a three-quarter, side-arm slot with a fastball that zips in around 93 or 94 mph. Facing him was right-hander Jordan Yamamoto, who was probably the top pitcher in the ILH this year. Joining the roughly 3,000 screaming fans in the stands were more than two dozen scouts with speed guns right behind the backstop, tracking every pitch.
The game was a great one, living up to all its hype. Waiäkea threatened in the fourth when they paired their only two hits. Medeiros singled and his pinch-runner got to third on a hit by Caleb Freitas-Fields. But a botched sacrifice bunt went awry — and Saint Louis escaped unscathed.
Medeiros was a bit wild and walked five batters. In the bottom of the fourth, one of free passes, a sacrifice bunt and shortstop Rayson Romero’s single produced the only run St. Louis needed. They got an insurance run in the next inning when Ryder Kuhns doubled and scored on Deven Stubblefield’s infield hit.
Meanwhile, Yamamoto was pitching a gem of a game, blanking Waiäkea. He had a better command of his pitches than his counterpart, walking only two batters and striking out nine. Yamamoto’s fastball was zipping by in the high 80s and low 90s and his slider was virtually unhittable.
He is well-built, standing 6 feet tall and weighing 185 pounds. Yamamoto was voted ILH Player of the Year. He is currently committed to play ball for the University of Arizona Wildcats. Of course, college ball will depend on how well he does in the upcoming MLB draft.
Coach Gusman has nothing but praise for his prize protégé. He says Yamamoto’s success is the direct result of his work ethic. There’s no question he’s talented, but Gusman said he’s never seen anyone work as hard to improve — and to continue getting better all the time.
And, Yamamoto isn’t just an outstanding pitcher. He is an all-around player. If he hadn’t pitched, he would have been the Crusaders’ catcher. In the last few years, he roamed the outfield when not pitching. He’s also an excellent hitter with a batting average of .313 and was the fifth batter in the line-up. He ended the state tournament against Mililani when he drove in the last two runs with a blast over the left fielder.
I don’t want to jinx him, but I think Jordan Yamamoto may be the best-looking Asian pitcher from Hawai‘i since Derek Tatsuno . . . and that goes a long way back.
Dr. Michael Okihiro is a retired Honolulu neurologist and a self-professed “baseball nut.”