Life has been a whirlwind for Sam Nakata since states ended in April.
Before the Wally Yonamine Foundation Baseball Championships – Division II state tournament, Nakata — who just graduated from Kauai High School — was intent on walking-on at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
“The reason I chose UH Hilo was it was close to home. It was in Hawaii,” Nakata said Wednesday at Vidinha Stadium. “Our coaching staff — coach John Blalock, coach Kalama (Camalliri) and coach (Hank) Ibia — they all played at Hilo. I figured they could maybe help me out over there. Also, I know some current players now that actually walked-on to the team. So, I figured I could go the same rout as them.”
A good showing from the Red Raiders first baseman at states, though, brought on an opportunity to bring him stateside.
Nakata signed his letter of intent and will play baseball at Simpson University, an NAIA private school in Redding, California.
“It was exciting. It was an exciting time of my life,” he said of the whole process. “It was something I wanted to do. I want to play at the next level. Doing all these applications and talking with all these coaches, it was great. And I’m really happy about it.”
Nakata, who is listed as 6-feet tall, was the big bat for the Red Raiders en route to Kauai High winning its fourth-consecutive Kauai Interscholastic Federation championship.
By the end of the season, Nakata posted a .490 batting average and led the team in hits (25), runs (23) and runs batted in (13), according to ScoringLive.
At the Division II tournament, Nakata was a combined 5-of-11 with four runs and one RBI as Kauai High won its third DII state title, according to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association.
He was named Division II all-tournament team, Most Outstanding Player and KIF Player of the Year.
“The extra practices. My dad always helps me — throws (batting practices) to me, hits me ground balls. He’s pretty much my practice partner,” he said. “And my mom and my sister, they always found a way to help me, too — whether it was tossing balls or throwing the ball with me in the yard. They always helped me, and it’s something I love to do.”
During the tournament, Nakata was getting noticed as he continued his hot streak.
“I met coach Walter Kiyota from Hawaii Prep,” he continued. “coach Blalock introduced me to coach Walt after the game. He asked me if I was interested in playing. I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Take a look at Simpson University, and let me know if you’re interested enough.’ I told him off the bat, ‘Coach, I’m interested already.’”
Soon after that exchange, Kiyota put Nakata in contact with assistant coach and the recruiting coordinator at Simpson Dan Tating.
Tating said in a phone interview Friday he’s not only watched video and looked up statistics on Nakata, but also has talked with other coaches including Kiyota about him.
“I went on to OC16 and watched all their games, and was able to see all the at bats,” Tating said. “I watched all his games online. I saw how he moved and his actions, and liked what I saw. Called some other coaches that I know that played them from the Big Island and Oahu and some guys who saw him down there. Everything kind of lined up.”
The day after the Red Raiders team arrived back home from states, Tating called Nakata to gauge his interested in playing ball for the Red Hawks.
Nakata was advised to apply for enrollment at the school.
Soon after Nakata was accepted, he was awarded partial athletic and partial academics scholarships.
“I told him, ‘I’m there,’” Nakata said. “He just said he’d let the head coach know, coach Greg Caderet, and that my letter of intent would come shortly. I said, ‘Sounds great.’”
Nakata signed his letter of intent on Wednesday.
Tating said what he likes from the Red Raider is his approach when hitting.
“He has an aggressive approach at the plate,” he said. “I thought the swing mechanics were transferable to the college level. And his size and build, and the way he moved, I could see that he was athletic. … He has some room to grow. He doesn’t look like he fully filled out yet. I looks like something we can work with.”
Tating added Nakata is one of three recruits from Hawaii he’s signed to Simpson.
“One of the things we like is personalities where they’re confident but humble. I could tell by his demeanor that’s where he was,” he said. “To be honest, that’s one of the things I think that the Hawaii culture bring us more of that. Their expectations are just to work their butts off.”
Nakata won’t have to leave for California until September. He also said he will focus on his liberal arts studies when he arrives.
“It’s really a dream come true — to be able to go to school and play the sport that I love,” he said. “To get to continue with my playing career is unreal. To be able to play outside of Hawaii is something I look forward to — that I get to play on the Mainland and see some different faces, some new places. A new journey. It’s something I’m excited for.”
He said he’ll miss his family and friends, the weather and the culture of his home island. He also said he will miss having a certain food in abundance when he leaves Kauai.
“I am going to miss, probably, rice,” he said. “We actually asked them, the counselor, if they have rice. And they don’t. So, we might have to bring a rice pot or something up there.”