Learning, Hawaii style

HONOLULU — For the erudite Michael Taylor, learning never stopped when he left Stanford in 2007 after the Philadelphia Phillies made him their fifth-round
draft selection.

The 10th-ranked prospect of the high Class A Florida State League is absorbing as much knowledge on the field and off it while playing for the Honolulu Sharks
of Hawaii Winter Baseball.

“I came here opened-minded,” the 6-foot-6, 250-pond outfielder said. “I knew
it was going to be a little different with different hitting coaches, a
different environment. I’ve worked on some different things.

“What I like about here is you can experiment a little bit. I’ve done some
different things I didn’t do during the year, just trying to see if this is
going to work. This (league) allows you to do that because it’s against good
competition, but it’s not exactly like your (regular season) where you’re
really trying to focus on getting better, but also your performance. During
the year, numbers are important. It’s how you move up in the organization.
Numbers are important here as well, but it’s more important for me to learn
things to get better.”

Taylor, who turns 23 Dec. 19, is coming off a breakout season split between
low Class A Lakewood and high Class A Clearwater, finishing .346/.412/.557 with 19 homers, 88 RBIs and 15 steals. This came after hitting .227 with six homers at short-season Willamsport in 2007.

“There are a lot of adjustments to make when you’re coming to pro ball,”
Taylor explained about his rookie season. “After that first season, I got to
go into the offseason and put a plan together for myself. Getting healthy,
too, was a big part of it. I had some back problems my first year. It was
hard to get in the work that I needed. A lot of it is routine and extra work
to get into a rhythm. It’s hard to do that when you’re struggling with
injuries every day.”

With about a third of the HWB 40-game season done, Taylor is struggling again at the plate, hitting .227 with four doubles, a triple and a home run, which he hit the first weekend. But he is proud of the fact he is making contact. He has drawn nine walks and struck out nine times in 76 plate appearances.

“It’s something every hitter wants to work on,” he said. “The more a batter puts a ball in play, the better chance you have to get hits. That’s one of my goals, to be a one-to-one (walks to strikeouts) guy. It will be difficult, but if you can cut your strikeouts down, maybe you get 10 or 12 more hits out of that and bump
your average up. That¹s what I want to do, get into counts that I can swing at and  go from there.”

He’s also working on his defense in HWB.

“Getting better reads, routes, jumps,” he said of what he wants to improve on. “I feel I’ve come a long way in the last year and a half, two years. If I can get
better, it can only help me. Maybe I’ll learn a new position. Play first base. Do everything. Good reads is what makes a good outfielder. You make good reads, you have less of a chance to mess up.”

Taylor’s learning isn’t limited to baseball. He is taking advantage of his
extended stay by seeing as much of Oahu as possible. He would like to visit
the island of Hawaii or the Big Island to see Kilauea volcano, active since
1983, but isn’t sure if he will have time to make the day trip on one of the
few off days left in the season. He’s also enjoying meeting the island
residents.

“It’s obviously a different culture out here,” he said. “I’m just soaking it up.”

Ironically, his thirst for knowledge off the field might be affecting him on it, he admits.

“I might be a little more tired than usual because you’re doing things on
your off days, doing things in the morning before games, doing things after
games,” said Taylor, who is from Florida. “As much as this is work, it’s also a reward. It’s good to go out and do some different things.”

HWB notes
Taylor said he is close to completing a degree in political science
at Stanford. He hasn’t been able to take classes in the fall the past two
seasons because of instructional league and playing in HWB. He is interested
 n foreign policy.

“I love reading about the Middle East,” he said. “I don’t exactly know what I want to do. Maybe go to work for the state department or something like that.”

He also was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 9.

“Obviously, I have to give myself shots, take blood sugar readings,” he
said. “It’s a little bit of a discipline and sometimes it can be a little
bit of a pain. But if you stay on top of it, it’s fine.”

….

Through the years in HWB, league chairman Duane Kurisu has made it his mission to entertain the players, coaching staffs and on-field personnel.

On Nov. 1, Kurisu treated the managers, coaches, trainers, interpreters and all of their immediate family members to swim with the dolphins at Sea Life Park, a marine mammal interactive facility on Oahu¹s eastern shore.

The park offered several degrees of interactive activities with the dolphins. One activity was the Dolphin Royal Swim that included two types of rides with the dolphins. In one of the rides, participants are pulled by two dolphins by hanging on to their dorsal fins. In another, each dolphin uses its bottle nose to push the participant’s feet, lifting them so they appear to be gliding on water on their feet.

“I was a little bit nervous, but I grew up in the ocean,” Waikiki BeachBoys pitching coach Jeff Ware (Yankees) said. “I was always in the water (while growing up in Virginia Beach, Va.). I’ve always been a big marine life fan so it was more exciting to me than being nervous. Just interacting with the dolphins is amazing.”

Sea Life Park is the only place in the U.S. that allows this type of riding with the dolphins, according to Ron Hee, director of sales and marketing for the marine park.

In another holding tank, participants got to ride with a dolphin by holding on to its pectoral fins. The dolphin approaches the participant by swimming
inverted to make it easier to grab their fins. This event is called the Dolphin Swim Adventure.

“It’s exhilarating,” Honu hitting coach Aaron Holbert (Indians) said. “You’re scared. A lot of things go through your mind. You’re not sure what’s going to happen. You’re going so fast. The scary part is waiting for them to get to you. It’s the anticipation of the whole ride starting.”

It was Holbert’s second time at Sea Life Park. He went earlier in the season
with his wife, whom he said had to leave for the Mainland before the group
outing.

“I just wanted her to experience what I was experiencing, so we went ahead
and came out early on,” Holbert said.

Ironically, the only coaching staff not to attend the outing was from the
Sharks.

If Tampa Bay fans are wondering, there is a Hawaiian Ray Encounter that
allows participants to pet, feed and touch the rays.

Because there were games that night, the group was not around long enough to
watch the release of Hawaiian sea turtles, or honu, across the road at
Makapuu Beach. But Hee’s son, Jonathan Hee, a former University of Hawaii
infielder who completed his first pro season with the Red Sox’s short-season
team in Lowell, did get to release one of the five turtles. It was sort of appropriate because he is a North Shore Honu. (Hee is a taxi squad
player who is available for games when assigned players to the league are
unavailable.)

Sea Life Park was the second outing for the group. Earlier this season,
Kurisu arranged a day-long trip to the Big Island, where the group visited Kilauea volcano, black sand beaches and a rain forest.

“Duane’s really taken care of us here, as far as showing us what they have
here and things to do here,” said CaneFires pitching coach Blaine Beatty
(Orioles) of HWB’s chairman. “We¹re like little kids here again.”

Minors | #2008 #Hawaii Winter Baseball #Winter Baseball

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