The Hawaii Stars start a six-game series against the Sonoma County Grapes today, intent on being better than average, which is their current status in their four-team division of the North American Baseball League.
The Stars (12-12) host the last-place Grapes (9-15) at 5:35 p.m. today at Wong Stadium. Ronnie Loeffler (4-1, 3.60 ERA) is scheduled to start today, followed by Dallas Mahan (0-3, 4.13 ERA), Andrew Miller (1-2, 2.49 ERA), Bryan Herrera (1-1, 4.15 ERA) and John Holley (0-1, 4.86 ERA) on Sunday.
“We’re playing .500 ball, which is pretty good, but we have to wake up the sticks a little,” Stars manager Garry Templeton Jr. said. “Our pitching is what’s keeping us alive and helping us win games.”
The cold-hitting Stars, who have struggled all season long, are still last in the 10-member league with a .236 team batting average, just decimal points below the equally anemic Grapes’ .240 batting.
But all is not futile with Hawaii’s sticks. There is one shining Star in first baseman Anthony Lopez, 23, who’s from San Diego and played at Oklahoma Baptist University, where he and Reece Alnas were teammates.
Lopez holds a .337 batting average, third in the league. He’s currently on a modest three-game hitting streak. Outfielder Matt Hibbert, 23, is batting .312, which is seventh in the league. No other Star has a .300-plus batting average.
“Lopez stays within himself. He’s got a good, short swing, and he makes contact,” Templeton said. “A lot of guys are trying to do too much. Lopez does the things that got him here. He makes adjustments. That’s why he’s still hitting for a high average.”
Grapes outfielder Maikel Jova, 31, a Cuban defector who was signed by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2000, leads the league with a .383 batting average. He’s riding a 29-game hitting streak.
Meanwhile, a lot of the Stars are struggling to keep their averages above the Mendoza line. Shortstop Arnoldo Ponce (.205), second baseman Anthony Williams (.203) and outfielder Steve Tedesco (.203) are above, while swimming below are infielder Angel Sanchez (.190), and outfielders Alnas (.179) and Keoni Manago (.143 in 14 at-bats).
Hawaii closer Ramon Martinez, 27, has the best pitching numbers. He’s 0-0 with two saves and a 1.26 ERA in 14 innings with 16 strikeouts and four walks. Local product Michael Kenui is 2-1 with a 2.81 ERA in 16 innings with 14 strikeouts and just one walk.
Cortney Arruda, the other local pitcher, is 1-0 with an 8.44 ERA in 10 2⁄3 innings with 11 strikeouts and six walks. One bad outing against the San Rafael Pacifics on the road (seven earned runs in one-third of an inning) sky-rocketed his ERA, which was previously a respectable 2.46.
In an independent league, it’s all about putting up noticeable numbers.
“I’m looking forward to continuing to play better, get better and get wins and hopefully move some guys out of here (to a major league affiliate) if they put up numbers,” Templeton said. “It happens more often than people think. Playing in an independent league is definitely an opportunity.
“Another thing that doesn’t show up much is guys can go to other countries. If you go to Mexico or Japan, you can make really good money. If you’re talking minor league Japan ball, you’re talking $20,000 to $30,000 a year, and in Mexico, depending how good you are, anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 a month.”
On Saturday, the Chicago White Sox signed third baseman Chris Curley from the Frontier League. In January, from the NABL, pitcher Jon Edwards was signed by the Texas Rangers. He was with the San Angelo Colts of the South division.