It’s been a whirlwind the last few weeks for Honolulu Little League.
The team was greeted with a hero’s welcome last Monday after returning home from the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
“Everyone’s still excited about it. It hasn’t settled in (yet),” said Taylin Oana, Honolulu LL shortstop, in a phone interview Saturday.
It just so happens Taylin is a native son of Kauai.
Taylin, 12, is from Hanamaulu. The Oana family moved to Oahu two years ago.
“We made a promise with our daughter. If she gets into (Kamehameha Schools-Kapalama), we’d move as a family. She did, so we moved,” said Aaron Oana, Taylin’s father. “I didn’t want her being here alone. We do have family here, but she’s really close to us. So, we made the move all together.”
It was one week ago when Honolulu LL, representing the U.S. West Region, defeated South Seoul LL of South Korea, 3-0, in the final to clinch.
It was the third time Hawaii has won the LLWS championship — the first since 2008.
“It’s pretty amazing. I watched the Little League World Series from when I was 4,” Taylin said. “I used to talk with my dad about how I always wanted to go there. I finally got to go there, and we won the whole thing.”
He added about beating South Korea in the final: “I was really excited. I knew we made everyone in Hawaii proud and all of our parents proud. Mainly, I was excited that we won the game.”
At the LLWS, Taylin ended the tournament with a .250 batting average and scored two runs. Defensively, he had a 1.000 fielding percentage, zero errors and had a double play.
Aaron was at home in Hawaii Kai watching his son on national TV.
“It’s an experience I’ll never forget. First time I saw him playing, I cried,” Aaron said. “We worked so hard to get there. He spent so much time on the field perfecting his skills. … That’s what he worked for. It paid off in the end.”
On top of winning the tournament, perhaps the most polarizing storyline surrounding Honolulu LL was that the team was playing in Williamsport while the threat of Hurricane Lane was looming back home.
“I tried to just focus on the game and keep my cool. Just don’t worry,” Taylin said. “My dad, when he was here (on Oahu), he said that everything’s going to be alright and just focus on the game.”
Aaron said, fortunately, the family didn’t experience any ill effects from the hurricane threat other than some wind.
“They kept calling and checking in on us. I told them, ‘Don’t worry. Everything is covered. Just stay up there, have fun and enjoy,’” Aaron said. “We had all of supplies. We were ready. Now, we got so much water, we don’t know what to do with it.”
During the team’s undefeated run to the world title, the Oana family has been in contact with family and friends on Kauai who were watching.
“(I’ve heard) from my little cousins, my aunties and uncles and my grandparents,” Taylin said. “They said, ‘Amazing job. Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re going to go far.’ They said they’re so happy for me, and I made them proud. … It made me feel good. They’re my family.”
Aaron added of watching the title game: “My son, my daughter and I, we were on the couch watching the game. All game, just screaming out loud every play. When the final pitch came in, we erupted in the house. The neighbors came knocking on the door just to check if everything was OK.”
Aaron said he’s already seen some effects of Taylin’s newfound fame.
“The other day, my wife got pulled over by the cops for some infraction. I think it was because of the telephone. She was looking for an address to drop one of his teammates home,” Aaron said. “It just so happened they were coming from a radio interview, and they were wearing their uniforms.
“The cop pulled them over. They were talking. He said, ‘Oh, you guys played in the Little League World Series?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ He goes, ‘Congratulations. You guys did us so proud.’ Then he just told my wife, ‘Next time, do not use the phone.’ They let her go,” he continued with a laugh. “I said, ‘From now on, wear it every place we go just in case.’”
Taylin aims to one day reach the pros. He said his favorite team is the New York Yankees but his favorite player is Baseball Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, whom he met in Williamsport.
He said among the things he misses about Kauai are his auntie’s house and Kalapaki Beach.
“Just work hard, and never give up. Pursue your dreams if you want them,” Taylin said.
Statistics from GameChanger.
Nick Celario, sports writer, can be reached at 245-0437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.