The 2020 season ended up lasting just 17 games for the University of Hawaii baseball team, but shortstop Kole Kaler made them count.
In his first year suiting up for the Rainbow Warriors after transferring from South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, the switch-hitting shortstop led the team in a bevy of statistical categories, including batting average (.407), hits (24), doubles (9), triples (3), RBIs (17) and slugging percentage (.661).
Kaler was one of three ‘Bows to play in and start all 17 games during the 2020 season and committed just two errors all year. Albeit short, his stellar season didn’t go unnoticed, as he was named a third-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper on Tuesday.
“Super cool, but that’s never something that I really wanted,” Kaler told KHON2 sports director Rob DeMello. “I wanted to go out there and compete every day but I mean for people to recognize my play, I mean that’s great.”
Kaler’s transition from JUCO to Division I proved to be smooth, especially at the plate. His doubles and RBI total was tops among all players in the Big West Conference. D1Baseball.com also named him the conference’s most impressive hitter after the season’s conclusion.
Kaler went hitless in the team’s opening game, a 5-4 win over Hawaii-Hilo on Feb. 7, but went 3-for-4 the next day. He believes that performance helped ease him to a point where he could simply focus on playing the game. The biggest crowed he played in front of was a sellout of 4,410 fans at Les Murakami Stadium in a March 7 win over Oregon, another adjustment from the JUCO level.
“I’ve never played in front of more than 2,000 people before so that was a big jumping step for me,” Kaler said. “I’d say the second game against Hilo, that’s when I was like ‘OK, I’m just gonna calm down.’ Obviously they recruited me for a reason, so I just gotta go out there and do my thing.
“Coming in, they pretty much just said ‘Do your thing and the people here will like you.’ That’s kind of what happened. That’s crazy because a lot of other places, they have pro sports and that’s who they support. But Hawaii, they don’t have pro sports so just to go out there and have a whole state on your side. I think that’s something that stood out to me and that was super special to me as well.”
The ‘Bows were 11-6 with a signature win at defending national champion Vanderbilt on their resume when the season was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the team’s best start since 2012, but there proved to be no opportunity to build on it.
The 2020 MLB Draft takes place from June 10-11. Kaler is draft eligible as a junior but may not be selected after it shortened from 40 to five rounds. If Kaler doesn’t hear his name called, he is certainly open to a return to Manoa for the 2021 season.
“Obviously, if I get drafted potentially and the organization’s right and things like that, if those are good for me then I can see myself playing professional baseball,” Kaler said. “But if that doesn’t happen, I can’t wait to be back in Hawaii, can’t wait to do it all over again and hopefully we can get off to the same start that we did because we were going and it was gonna be fun to see how we’d finish up.”