Planet Claire has pink air. All the trees are red. — B52s “Planet Claire”
Former Aiea baseball standout Kobe Kato — just like nearly every college athlete last spring — had his season destroyed by COVID-19.
The University of Arizona utility player got sent home, along with all of his baseball teammates, right in the middle of March as the Wildcats were getting ready for a series against Oregon State.
For the summer, Kato was scheduled to play in the Cape Cod League in Massachusetts, an elite circuit, but that eventually got canceled.
“I was working out in people’s garages and going to parks just to do something to stay in shape,” Kato said by phone last week. “I had a tee set up in the backyard, and I had to adapt to working out.”
Kato was then planning to go to Bethesda, Md., to play in the Cal Ripken league that he played in a year earlier, but that also got canceled.
“So, I went surfing, hanging out, working out,” he added about his unusual spring.
Fortunately, the La Crosse Loggers from Wisconsin in the Northwoods League came calling.
“That was a week and a half into June,” Kato said, “And we were going to start July 1. I booked a ticket and went to Tucson to get my baseball equipment and headed off to La Crosse. That’s where I’ve been since. I brought a carry-on and a backpack.”
After 43 games, Kato, a 2017 Aiea graduate, was batting .279 with three homers, 30 RBIs and 24 stolen bases. He’s listed as a second baseman, but has played every position except center field and first base, even pitching an inning.
“The game (due to COVID-19) is kind of different,” he said. “We’re not allowed to high-five. We get our temperature checked every day before the start of doing anything. They limit the capacity of fans. There is not much fan to player interactions.”
The Loggers’ last regular-season game is Thursday. The playoffs and championship are Friday and Saturday.
Kato has three years of college eligibility remaining. He redshirted with the Wildcats in the spring of 2018 and played sparingly as a freshman in 2019. The season that was cut short in 2020 does not count against his eligibility.
“I want to play baseball as long as possible,” Kato said. “The goal is to play pro ball and stick this out as long as possible.”
In ’19, Kato — who is 6 feet 1 and 159 pounds — was converted to a catcher in college. In 30 Division I games total over the parts of two seasons, he batted .278 with four RBIs and two stolen bases.
“I’m still considered a catcher, but I’ve been playing more of an infield role, a utility guy,” he said. “They can put me in at any situation.”
In Division I as a junior and senior, Aiea lost to Kaiser in the first round of the league playoffs both times. As a freshman in D-I, Kato’s Na Alii team made the states and lost to Kailua in the first round.
“I’ve improved in maturity and learning the game a lot more because I’ve seen it more at a higher level,” Kato said. “I feel my strength is being smart, knowing the fundamentals, being able to play any position, hitting the ball gap to gap and keeping it low to get on base, and taking bases … but I’m not going to push it and will be smart about it.”