7/20/04 – Daily News Record
By AARON GRAY Daily News-Record Stadium announcers have butchered his name for years. But that’s OK. "I’m used to it. Everyone messes up my name," Gered Mochizuki (pronounced Mo-cha-zu-kee) said Monday at Memorial Stadium. The Turks’ starting shortstop from Maui, Hawaii, doesn’t sweat the small details. Instead, the 19-year-old tries to maintain "a good vibe" and likes to look at the big picture. "I’m not lucky; I believe I’m blessed," Mochizuki said. "I believe that everything is meant to be and you’re put on this Earth for a certain reason. I was blessed with baseball and that’s why I live to play." Even the sudden death of his grandfather in May couldn’t mute his early performance with the Turks or his positive outlook on life. "Of course, losing a loved one hurts," said Mochizuki. "I know my grandfather is watching over me and that makes me stronger. His passing taught me that life is short and I need to take advantage of my opportunities." Including the NCAA-sanctioned Valley League. Mochizuki considers it the biggest opportunity of his budding career. Growing up in Hawaii, he became accustomed to dominating other young players on the island. This past year as a freshman at Yavapai Junior College in Prescott, Ariz., he played against only West Coast opposition, hitting .305 with 27 RBIs. Now, he’s facing Division I collegiate stars nearly every night. "Out here, there’s players from all over the country," said Mochizuki, who had never been to the East Coast until this summer. "I love the competition. To be the best, I have to play the best." In his hunt for the best, Mochizuki had a sneak preview when he played at Baldwin High School in Wailuku with catcher Kurt Suzuki. Suzuki drove in the game-winning run for Cal State-Fullerton in this year’s College World Series. Suzuki’s 16 home runs and 87 RBIs earned him the Johnny Bench Award given to the best catcher in the country. He now plays with the Oakland Athletics organization. "If it wasn’t for my friend Kurt Suzuki, I wouldn’t be the person I am today," said Mochizuki, who is two years younger than Suzuki but started playing baseball with him in Hawaii when he was 11 years old. "A lot of people never heard of Kurt before this year, but it was no surprise for me," said Mochizuki. "He showed me it can be done." For Mochizuki, the transition from a tropical paradise to the U.S. mainland did provide cultural hurdles. "People forget – Hawaii is 5,000 miles away, it took some time for Gered to get adjusted," Yavapai coach Sky Smeltzer said by telephone. The biggest adjustment was simply to a more free-wheeling culture on the mainland. "In Hawaii, my coaches were very up-tight about what you did on and off the field. It all goes back to the Asian cultures that are very strict," said Mochizuki, who was suspended briefly during his senior year of high school when he was caught with chewing tobacco in the dugout. Another adjustment was Mochizuki’s speech, which he calls Pigeon English – aka Hawaiian slang. "It’s like speaking lazy … with an accent," Smeltzer said. His teammates don’t seem to mind. "It’s kind of funny, like broken English or something," first baseman Joe Kemp said. "But he puts the ball in play, that’s all you can ask for." The 5-foot-7, 153-pounder is the leadoff hitter for first-place Harrisonburg (23-12) and is ranked third in the VBL in both hitting (.345) and on-base percentage (.430) and sixth in total hits (39). Like most Valley Leaguers, Mochizuki is in the summer circuit to improve his skills – not just for fun and games. "At this level, you’re on your own," said Mochizuki, right after he contributed to a dark puddle of spit developing near his feet. "It’s different out here – all business." But his development will have to take a break for the time being. Mochizuki sprained his right knee in a game at Waynesboro on June 30. He sat out the last two games for the Turks and may not return before the playoffs start in early August. "I was about to go back home to Hawaii, but I want to stick it out and see what happens," said Mochizuki. Despite the frown-worthy setbacks, Mochizuki maintains his upbeat mentality. "It would be nice to go back to Hawaii and surf every day. I would enjoy that, but baseball is what I love," said Mochizuki. "It’s all about making sacrifices because I know I’m blessed and will be rewarded in the end."