There are naturals, there are works-in-progress … and then there is Sheldon Shishido.
It’s fair to say Shishido’s baseball career got off to an undignified start. He was 11 when he joined Hilo Little League, and it didn’t take him long to earn his first demotion.
“I was horrible, so they sent me down to minors (ages 9 and 10),” Shishido said.
But that wasn’t the hard part.
“I still didn’t play,” he said. “You’re older than everybody else and still watching everybody else play.
“Definitely, I was made fun of. Kind of hard playing with younger kids and still sitting. That’s pretty tough.”
But Shishido grew, matured and gained experience and skills along the way, eventually finding a niche as a reliever on strong teams at Waiakea High School. He remembers to the pitch — 92 on a wet day at Wong Stadium — his only start his senior year, but he primarily worked out of the bullpen.
Shishido continued the role in college, first at Ohlone College in Freemont, Calif., where he was on a team that won a national championship, and then at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
This weekend at Wong, not far from where he first broke in, Shishido’s baseball career will come to a graceful end.
“I’m kind of satisfied where I’m at,” said Shishido, who’s 2-3 with a 4.38 ERA this season in 17 games. “I think my career is successful. From where I started to now, most if they saw me when I was 11, they’d say this kid is not even going to play high school baseball.”
The Vulcans (11-30, 9-21 Pacific West Conference) host Hawaii Pacific (27-15, 17-13) in 3 p.m. doubleheaders today, Saturday and Sunday, marking the final college appearances for 11 seniors.
Some — Jonathan James, Zachary Hamasaki, Seamus Yoneshige and Micah Nakasone — have been at UH-Hilo throughout their college careers, enduring four losing seasons.
“A roller-coaster ride,” said James, who’s hitting .317 and leads the team with 18 RBIs. “But a lot more ups than downs.
“We may not have such a good record, but these guys, I would do anything for them.”
Others — Ryan Fukunaga, Will Thayer, Kyle Watase, Bryce Shandro, Harrison Guiol, Austin Cusack — are transfers.
Fukunaga, a 2009 Hilo High graduate, is the other senior homegrown product. Fukunaga originally attended Scottsdale Community College, and he’s been a pleasant surprise with the bat this season, hitting .310.
“He’s done well offensively to help us,” first-year coach Kallen Miyataki said “He’s come through with a lot of big hits, and we’re pleased with that.”
Miyataki doesn’t make any bones about the fact it’s all about the money in NCAA Division II, and the Vulcans don’t have it.
James knows the score. He’s started ever since he came to Hilo after injuries derailed him in high school at Kamehameha-Kapalama on Oahu.
“The bond we have between our teammates,” he said, “that’s a lot stronger than any facility other teams could get.”
The 6-foot-2 James has spent four seasons swinging with frustration at the pitcher’s paradise that is Wong Stadium. He hopes to continue playing baseball, perhaps in an independent league, while picking up a physical therapy career on the West Coast.
“It’s going to be running through my head a lot during my last six games that it’s over,” he said. “Just try to leave it all on the field.”
Shishido is also a kinesiology major, but he’s putting down the glove and wants to find a physical therapy school on the West Coast.
“I’m trying to get more in debt,” Shishido said. “(JJ’s) trying to get out of debt.”
Citing community support, a strong staff and resilient players, Miyataki said this year has been “awesome.”
“I think we’ve done a good job of overcoming adversity and making adjustments,” he said. “Learning life skills that no one can take away. Those experiences hopefully will help them the rest of their life.”