Ka’ai Tom had to reach unfamiliar territory to record his first big moment as a Major League Baseball player.
Down big and bereft of fresh bullpen arms, the Oakland Athletics turned to Tom to pitch the ninth inning of their game against the Houston Astros on Sunday. Tom, an outfielder who hasn’t pitched since American Legion ball, threw a scoreless inning against the 2017 World Series champions. The Astros won 9-2, but Tom exited to a standing ovation at the Oakland Coliseum and is unlikely to forget the moment anytime soon.
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“It was a pretty fun experience,” Tom told reporters after the game. “I was just trying to look and feel what it’s like to be a pitcher. It was fun overall.”
“I’m sure he was nervous,” Athletics manager Bob Melvin, for his part, said. “He’s never done it before, so hopefully it brings a little levity at the end of the game.”
Tom’s mother, Bobbie, was also in attendance to witness the moment.
“It’s a pretty awesome feeling,” Tom said. “Just knowing that no matter what I’m doing, she’s going to support me.”
Back home in Hawaii, Saint Louis coach George Gusman let out a laugh when he found out Tom took the mound in an MLB game. Tom, who played on the varsity team for the Crusaders from 2010 to 2012 under Gusman, was remembered far more for his hitting power and smooth actions in the outfield. Tom did not pitch for Saint Louis, nor did he take the mound at any point in his college or minor league career.
“We used to call Ka’ai ‘Ala Wai Ka’ai’ because he would park it in the Ala Wai Canal,” Gusman told KHON2 on Sunday afternoon. “Even as a sophomore for a guy his size, he could just flat-out hit and hit for power.
“Ka’ai was strictly an outfielder. We thought about giving him some opportunities in the infield but that never materialized. He was very athletic, he could run, pretty good arm. I never saw him as a pitcher.”
Tom becomes the third Saint Louis alum to pitch in a MLB game in the last calendar year, joining former Crusader teammates Rico Garcia and Jordan Yamamoto.
At the plate, Tom went 0-for-6 as the A’s lost all four games. Tom’s next opportunity to get his first hit in the big leagues will come in a three-game series against the defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers, which starts on Monday.
After climbing the minor league ladder for six years, Tom hopes to make more memories at the major league level soon.
“We are super proud of him, happy for him and his family as well. It’s never an easy road coming through the minors and not being a physically imposing guy but it proves that hard work and perseverance can take you somewhere you never thought you could get,” Gusman said of Tom, who is currently listed at 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds.
Here’s how other MLB players with Hawaii ties fared during opening week of the 2021 season:
Kolten Wong, second baseman, Milwaukee Brewers (Kamehameha-Hawaii and University of Hawaii): After leading off all three games, Wong went 2-for-10 in Milwaukee’s opening series against the Minnesota Twins, the same franchise that drafted him as a senior out of Kamehameha-Hawaii. The Brewers start a three-game series against the Cubs on Monday.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa, shortstop, Texas Rangers (Mid-Pacific): Kiner-Falefa went 4-for-13 (.308) as the Rangers went 1-2 in their opening series against the Kansas City Royals. Kiner-Falefa had three hits in a 7-3 win on Sunday, including his first home run of the season. Next up for the Rangers is a three-game series with the Blue Jays, starting on Monday.
Kurt Suzuki, catcher, Los Angeles Angels (Baldwin): In his lone appearance of the season thus far, Suzuki went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts in a 5-3 win over the Chicago White Sox. The 3-1 Angels start a home series against the 4-0 Astros on Monday.
Josh Rojas, utility, Arizona Diamondbacks (University of Hawaii): The Diamondbacks went 1-3 against the San Diego Padres. Rojas played in all four games and led off three of them but struggled at the plate, going 1-for-16 (.063). The Diamondbacks will head to Colorado with a three-game series against the Rockies as Rojas returns to the site of his MLB debut at Coors Field.