Plan B: Baldwin’s Brand Aligns With Kaupe’s Transformation
By Rodney S. Yap
The transformation of Branden Kaupe is well documented.
In fact, Kaupe’s first association with baseball came in 1997 at the age of 3, playing T-Ball for Central Maui Little League. All of Kaupe’s success thereafter was by design. A by product of hard work, determination and goal setting. His parents, Napa and Joy, list their son’s sports accomplishments on www.brandenkaupe.com. Everything from his volunteer work, to his JROTC award and the boxing training he had prior to attending the Senior Wooden Bat Classic in Peoria, Ariz. in 2010 is mentioned.
All important steps and building blocks to Kaupe’s sparkling resume.
Those who know the Kaupes have witnessed the intensity and commitment to their baseball way of life. The game is inherently part of their lifeblood, part of the air they breathe. Even the side-order conversation on the Kaupe dinner table is baseball related, often focused on the exploits of Branden’s younger sister, 13-year-old Nawai, who outplays the boys her age. Earlier this year, the 7th-grader from Iao School broke the oldest record in track and field on the Valley Isle by throwing the softball 220 feet, 3 inches at the Kiwanis’ Maui County Track and Field Meet. The previous mark of 215-10 stood for almost four decades and was set by Joni Cabacungan of Iao in 1973. Best of all, Nawai will get a chance to break her own record next year as an 8th-grader, assuring her place in the history annals when you consider no other female athlete since Cabacungan has ever reached the 200-foot mark in that event.
It’s true Branden went from current Baldwin High School switch-hitting middle infielder, to former all-state first-team selection, to Major League pro of the New York Mets, in a span of three weeks. The truth is, behind the long-hours of practice and countless acts of sacrifice, the 18-year-old’s journey to the BIGS will soon become the blueprint for the next young prospect with big-league aspirations.
The face of the Baldwin baseball program the last four years, the 5-foot, 6-inch Kaupe batted clean up as a freshman and did not strike out in 2012, earning the team MVP and Most Inspirational awards. In 18 games, he batted .511 with 21 RBI and 16 steals.
Taken by the Mets in the fourth round (140th overall) of the Major League Baseball draft earlier this week, Kaupe is the second highest pick ever from the Maui County, behind only Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki, who was selected in the second round (67th overall) out of Cal State Fullerton in 2004 — his junior season.
Inspired by the success of local boys like Suzuki and Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino, from St. Anthony, Kaupe has had plenty of role models growing up, mainly his dad, Napa, a two-sport MIL all-star from Baldwin who extended his playing career on the softball field and then later as a youth league coach grooming young players on fundamentals of the game for more than 25 years.
Prior to the Bears state baseball run in May, Kaupe and his teammates got to baptize the school’s new 9,000-square foot baseball facility, adjacent to the football field at the north end zone.
When done, the state-of-the-art facility will ranked among Hawaii’s best.
“This could potentially be the nicest hitting facility in the state,” said Baldwin baseball coach Jon Viela. “I played at UH (Manoa) and Hilo, and this facility is better. Mid-Pacific’s facility is really nice, but I think our project manager and donor wanted to top that.”
Former Baldwin player and coach Craig Okita served as the project manager, while the primary donor was Oahu businessman and Owls’ supporter David Fujiwara. Viela said Suzuki also made financial contributions, while a majority of the work materials used to build the facility was donated by Keoni Gomes of Gomes Trucking.
“We started the project over a year ago,” Viela noted. “But two work stoppages by the state, the longest one being about five months, delayed the opening. We were hoping to have it completed before the start of our season.”
So when the team found itself without a facility to practice at, due to construction repairs at Maehara Stadium the week before the state tournament, Viela turned to Plan B.
“It’s already given us an edge. The county was doing some masonry work in the stadium and we couldn’t be in there, but we had this to use so we were fine.”
The first phase of the project has been completed, which is the current 60 x 120-foot open area framed by fencing and lined with a wind-breaker shade that allows natural sunlight through. The ceiling is semi-transparent and provides significant light during the day. For now, netting divides the main area into three work stations, lined with turf carpeting.
“We wanted an open side area and an open back area,” Viela said. “Right now we have a weight-room area, a utility area and a throw bullpen area.”
When completed, phase two will be 1,800 feet of interior space designed to be split into two 900-foot rooms. Viela said one of the rooms will be a classroom, for instruction and audio-visual technology. The other room will be for meetings. Plumbing, electrical and lighting will eventually complete the project.
Viela said he expects the baseball team to utilize the facility six to seven months of the year.
“We would start in Oct. and run through May.”
When not in use, Viela said it would be available to other organizations, based on the school’s discretion.
“Once it’s completed it will be a Baldwin High School facility,” Viela said. “Baldwin High school’s administration will determine who can use it and when. Once we get it finished we will turn it over to the school.”
Baldwin softball coach Steven Morton said the new facility will serve his girls best when the weather is lousy or when he needs to do video instruction.
“We will mostly use it for indoor practice and to watch video,” said Morton, who’s softball team blessed its own home field six months ago on ag land in the back of the school.
“The baseball facility is like a college facility, where you can throw live or machine. When it comes to one-on-one coaching and individual training we will no doubt be using the facility. The classroom will allow us to show the girls video of themselves.”
Meanwhile, the new official practice field has renewed team pride and is a feel-good-venue.
“It’s made our practices really clean as there are no bad bounces on the field . . . the girls love it.
“This is Baldwin’s facility, its not baseball or softball, its Baldwin’s facility,” Viela said.
History Of Baldwin Baseball
16 Top 4 Finishes, including four state titles and four runner-up finishes
1959, 1960, 1984, 1995
1963, 1986, 2010, 2012
1965, 1967, 1968, 1970, 1985, 1989, 1991