Maybe one day PONY will fill Hilo Little League’s shoes as the Big Island’s sports summer powerhouse that frequently chases World Series championships and occasionally brings home a trophy.
That was the case for Hilo all-star teams in 2003 and 2011, with each capturing the Senior League World Series. Many of the players on the latter ballclub for ages 14-16 were on the Junior League team (ages 12-14) that finished runner-up at the World Series in 2008.
There won’t be any World Series runs this year for the Junior, Senior and Big League (ages 16-18) divisions because, for the first time in Hilo’s Little League history, the three divisions are empty. Not enough players have signed up.
At least recent Hilo graduate Chayce Kaaua and Waiakea graduate Kean Wong still have their memories. They were on the 2008 and 2011 teams. They also have a championship timeline that extends back to 2006, when their Hilo all-star ballclub won the Cal Ripken (ages 11-12) World Series.
How time flies. And it can be quite confusing with several different leagues that garner the summer spotlight.
Little League, which has a TV contract that spotlights its Majors division (ages 11-12), also offers Minors, Junior, Senior and Big League divisions.
Cal Ripken is a league created by the former Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. A Cal Ripken 11-12 all-star team from the Big Island will play at the state tournament June 8-9 on Oahu.
PONY (Protecting Our Nation’s Youth) features Pinto (7-8), Mustang (9-10), Bronco (11-12), Pony (13-14), and Colt (15-16) divisions.
There’s also RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities). There were several RBI teams entered in last weekend’s Kona PONY Baseball Memorial Day Tournament. Former Waiakea coach Kevin Yee will take a Junior team (13-14) to the mainland for a regional tournament in July.
In 2002, a Hilo RBI all-star team led by independent pro pitchers Cortney Arruda and Aaron Correa captured the West Regional championship to advance to the World Series. Arruda plays with the Hawaii Stars, and Correa plays with the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the independent American Association.
PONY is now organized under Hilo PONY Baseball but still plays games at the Boys & Girls Club of the Big Island. RBI, associated with Major League Baseball, is a partner of Boys & Girls Club of America.
RBI is not affiliated with PONY, but does enter teams in the PONY league. Wayne Yamauchi is the coordinator for RBI and PONY. He knows his baseball history, and he took a quick trip down memory lane.
“The PONY league was founded by Richard Chinen in 1955. We had only four teams back then,” Yamauchi said. “Hilo Boys Club, coached by Shell Blanchett; Pio-Pio Bears, Nobu Yamauchi (Wayne’s father) and Freckles Izumo; St. Joseph Cardinals, Walter Victor and Jimmy Correa; and Waiakea Mites, Chop Yamada.
“We only had a 13-14 division. Everyone at the time played in a league called Lilly League until age 12 at Mooheau Park and then played PONY at age 13-14. Games were played at St. Joseph school park.
“Little League was started by Shell in 1957 at Hilo Boys & Girls Club with the same organization and coaches. PONY’s Colt Division was added in 1958. Games were played at Kaawa Field, where Victor Complex is.”
PONY doesn’t have a Palomino Division, but may add that 17-18 age group one day if Little League players keep jumping over.
“Most of the Little League players ages 15-16 are playing in Colt,” Yamauchi said. “When we had Colt sign-ups, no teams or players were committed. This was in January. But we had to put a $200 deposit down.”
It was a good gamble that paid off.
Colt has four teams: Andrews, Pirates, RBI and Hawaii Isle Athletics. The league starts June 10 and runs until the end of the month. An all-star team will play at the state tournament in July.
The last Colt league was in the early 1980s, and a Hilo All-Star team won the Colt World Series in the late 1970s or early 1980s, Yamauchi said.
Next year, he plans to start Colt after the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament, which finishes in May.
RBI is a good partner, even if the league doesn’t provide any financial support to PONY. Major League Baseball has a $12.4 billion TV package — an eight-year deal signed last October — with ESPN, Fox and TBS.
“We played the RBI Junior division during the winter league,” said Yamauchi, who added that the RBI softball league will be played in June. His wife, Agnes Yamauchi, is the softball coordinator.
Meanwhile, Hilo PONY keeps growing. There are four Pinto teams, 13 Mustang, 11 Bronco, seven PONY and four Colt ballclubs, a good number of players to one day chase World Series dreams of their own.
For more info on PONY or RBI, visit bgcbi.com.
Hilo Little League is one of four teams entered in the Big Island Minors (ages 9-10) tournament, which runs Friday through Monday at Honokaa’s Parks and Recreation complex.
Hamakua, Kona Coast and North Hawaii are also in the double-elimination tournament, and the champion advances to the state tournament.