When the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the 2020 minor league baseball season, Shane Sasaki didn’t wait for his next opportunity to get on the diamond.
Instead, the ‘Iolani alum who was a third round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays took his talents down under for the winter, suiting up for the Perth Heat of the Australian Baseball League.
“It was huge. A great group of guys were there, older guys too so I was trying to pick their brains every day,” Sasaki told KHON2 sports director Rob DeMello. “They taught me a lot. I feel like when I went up there, I got a lot better when I came back and that’s the main thing. My coaches up there was telling me I look great. It was a good trip for me and I really think it benefitted my career.”
Due to the nature of the pandemic, Sasaki took an alternate route to get to Australia and was under a mandatory quarantine upon arriving. But spending the winter in Australia gave Shane Sasaki a semblance of normal life while also playing the game he loves.
“Australia’s really close to us. It’s like a 10-hour direct flight, but I had to fly the other way. I think I was 40 hours in the air,” Sasaki recalled. “It was a long commute, but at the end of the day, it was all worth it.”
During the ABL regular season, Sasaki hit .179 with two home runs, eight RBI and a league-leading eight stolen bases in 21 games. His true breakout came during the ABL semifinals, during which he hit two home runs in one inning and drove in eight runs in a 26-6 win against the Adelaide Giants. The Heat fell to the Melbourne Aces 9-2 in the finals, but Sasaki still feels he gained valuable experience. Although he still has yet to play a full professional season heading into 2021, he feels his Australia excursion will propel him towards success moving forward.
“I was facing guys that I probably wouldn’t be facing. Better guys, more experienced guys,” Sasaki said of the ABL, which featured a handful of prominent MiLB prospects and former MLB prodigies such as Delmon Young. “It really helped me, having to advance for me to hit. They were very experienced so I had to find ways to be able to compete against them and with the help of my teammates, towards the end of the season it was getting better and better.
“I just wanna grow from the trip and keep getting better from there because I feel like I’m in a good spot because of Australia and I just wanna keep working on what I was doing up there.”