Hawaii Winter Baseball League Kicks Off

SFDugout.com catches up with Giants prospects as they prepare for winter baseball in Hawaii.

Poolside at The Beachcomber Hotel in Waikiki might be the furthest place in the world from Mark Minicozzi’s hometown of Philadelphia, but the infield prospect who spent 2006 with the San Jose Giants isn’t complaining about his eight-week winter assignment.

“There are a lot of worse places to spend the winter,” Minicozzi says, smiling.

At the Friday night meet & greet with the Honolulu press corps, players were relaxed, and the pervading attitude was one of good ol’ fashioned Hawaiian aloha. The air was warm and the beer was free, so naturally one might get the idea that this was a group of young athletes hanging loose for an extended paid vacation in the tropics. Not necessarily so, says Minicozzi.

“I think of [Hawaiian Winter Baseball] as an extension of the regular season,” he said. “You’re definitely trying to work on aspects of your game that are weaknesses or stuff you need to work on that the organization has told you [to work on].”

It seems that power-hitting prospect Nate Schierholtz of the Giants’ AA affiliate, the Connecticut Defenders, would agree that this winter is a time for work, not play. When an sfdugout.com reporter approached him for a quote on the subject, Schierholtz was strictly business.

“I’m going to the gym,” he said. And promptly left.

Right handed closer Brian Anderson, also most recently with the San Jose Giants, says he is planning on working on his whole game this winter, but, specifically, “the organization wants me to get a pitch that goes in to right handed batters.”

As a kid growing up in Southern California, Anderson spent many hours working on all the different aspects of his pitching with his best friend since the age of 4, Neil Jamison. Today, Anderson and Jamison are both professional pitchers. They’re both closers, in fact. Anderson was nearly unhittable (0.90 WHIP, 85 Ks in 67.2 IP) in 2006 and Jamison fared nearly as well in his role with the Lake Elsinore Storm of the San Diego Padres system. Both are humble and mature young men, but neither is able to hide his obvious gratitude and enthusiasm for the opportunity to compete against his friend and rival this winter in the HWB.

“I think for all of us, its really exciting to play with and against all the different guys from different organizations in this league,” said Jamison.

When asked who—besides his buddy Anderson—he’s especially looking forward to playing with and against, there was no hesitation to Jamison’s answer:

“The Japanese guys, definitely.” A group of American ballplayers within earshot all agreed.

The Japanese guys Jamison refers to are the 36 professionals brought over from affiliates of the NPB that will be competing this winter in Hawaii. The most famous HWB alumnus is probably Ichiro Suzuki, who began his professional career in Hawaii with the Hilo Stars in 1993. Kenji Johjima, Kaz Matsui, So Taguchi, and Tadahito Iguchi are alumni of Hawaii Winter Baseball, as well. Scouts, players, and fans are all looking for the next breakout star in this year’s crop of rising stars from the land of the rising sun.

It might be Kanehisa Arime, a lefty from the Rakuten Golden Eagles who was scheduled to start the Opening Game of this year’s HWB for the Honolulu Sharks. With no translator nearby, SFDugout.com had a hard time getting a good quote from Arime about what he plans to work on this season. When asked what his experience in Hawaii has been so far, however, it seems that little was lost in translation.

 “Alooooooha!!” he beamed, thumb and pinky extended in an exuberant Hawaiian shaka greeting.

Unquestionably, there are a lot of worse places to spend the winter.

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