Hawaii Stands Out for Little League World Series Success
The list of states with the best winning percentage at the Little League World Series entering the 2022 event mostly reads like a list of the states that we understand to be among the best at producing baseball talent at all levels.
Four of the top five are as follows: Georgia (.706), California (.636), Texas (.618) and New Jersey (.603). That’s a who’s who of baseball powerhouse states.
The fifth team in that quintet is Hawaii, which has the second-best winning percentage in that group at .694 despite ranking 40th in the union in population and 41st in terms of the number of MLB players who were born within its borders. And it has another team off to a hot start in the event in Williamsport, Pa. this year.
In addition to being ahead of California, Texas and New Jersey in terms of LLWS winning percentage, The Aloha State is also ahead of the likes of Pennsylvania (.586), Florida (.551), North Carolina (.412) and Arizona (.400), all populous states with reputations for producing much more high-end baseball talent.
To be fair, Hawaii has a rich, proud sporting tradition, and its baseball community is extremely tight knit.
Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser wrote in 2019 about a bumper crop of prospects coming from the islands, many of whom were under the tutelage of Kaha Wong, one of the most prominent baseball instructors in the state and the father of longtime big leaguer Kolten Wong and current Angels minor leaguer Kean Wong.
One of the players in that story, Maui Ahuna, is now a shortstop at Tennessee and a potential first-round pick in 2023. A few years younger, catcher Aukai “Jaydon” Kea from Kapolei looks ready to follow in Ahuna’s footsteps as a top prospect out of high school in 2024.
It should be acknowledged that performance in the Little League World Series is an imperfect metric, if for no other reason than the Little League brand is stronger in some states than it is in others, which in theory could affect the quality of the team each state is able to field, but what Hawaii has done to get to Williamsport and win there with consistency is staggering no matter how you look at it.
Hawaii’s five US championships at the LLWS are tied for second all time with Florida, trailing only California, which has lapped the field several times over with 15, and its three overall championships are also tied for second among states, alongside Georgia and behind California’s five.
That success is likely owed to a potpourri of things. There certainly seems to be something in the grassroots-level coaching players are receiving on the islands, led by individuals like Kaha Wong, Kenny Harrison, the father of former minor leaguer K.J. Harrison and current North Carolina State shortstop Kalae Harrison, and Timo Donahue, the father of Cubs farmhand Christian Donahue and University of Hawaii infielder Jordan Donahue who also coached Christian in the 2008 LLWS.
As one player suggests in Glaser’s story, those player development success stories build on themselves, as one generation of players gives the next generation someone to look up to and something to strive for.
But there’s also something undeniably more ethereal about Hawaii’s LLWS history. Every team that gets to that stage has state pride and wants to represent its home well, but the teams from Hawaii (and players from Hawaii, more generally), whether because of the tight-knit nature of the baseball community, the geographic isolation or just simply feeding off being viewed as underdogs, seem to wear their state pride on their sleeves in a way that few others do.
We see certain Little League organizations make return trips to the LLWS—the groups from Pearland, Texas and Nolensville, Tenn. are two examples this year—based in part on the coaching and culture of that specific organization, but that seems to apply to the whole of the state of Hawaii as we see teams from the islands show up again and again.
Whatever combination of art and science the Hawaii baseball community has put together, it’s clearly working, as its teams continue to earn their way onto the long flight to the mainland, where they go about punching well above their weight year after year.