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All American Game  | Story  | 8/18/2023

Calm, Cool Aukai Kea, PGAA

Hannah Jo Groves     
Photo: Aukai Kea (Perfect Game)
When an unknown number called Aukai (Jaydon) Kea's phone, he wasn't sure if he should pick up.

"I just got this call from somebody in Arizona," Kea said. "And I was like, 'Who’s that? Should I answer?' But then I answered it. He told me, ‘Yeah, congratulations, man.’ I was really shocked. Going into the summer, this was one of the events I wanted to be in. I’m very thankful that I got this opportunity."

The 17-year-old Kea hails from Kapolei, Hawaii. He's grown up boogie boarding on the islands, but during summers, he's been playing travel ball on the main land. 

"One of the big challenges is being away from home," Kea said. "Every summer, I’ll be away from home for at least two months with no stop - because there’s no sense in flying home for a day - you gotta fly, like, 10 hours. Being away from all my friends, my family - that’s always a struggle for me. But having my dad with me makes it a lot easier."

Sam Kea, Aukai's dad, was a football player and coach before getting into baseball and coaching his sons. While Aukai shared that his dad has a lot of knowledge about the mechanics of the game, Sam Kea always emphasized the importance of mental strength in his sons' games.

"[My dad] said, 'You can’t lose the battle between your ears before you lose the battle,'" Kea said. "I wouldn’t be the person that I am today without that guy. He’s been teaching me life lessons throughout my whole life — and I thought it was about baseball. But it’s not really… I wouldn’t be here without him."

Along with great support from his dad, Kea said his growth within the past year has been a result of his surroundings.

"A lot of aspects of my game have grown just because, being around the best guys, you tend to get better," Kea said. "You gotta face the top arms in the country - at these events, everybody’s throwing 95. You definitely gotta make adjustments quick. Even defensively, I’m not used to seeing 95 behind the plate, but you gotta get used to it."

Being present at these events is something that Kea feels especially grateful for. 

"A lot of people don’t think about, with travel baseball, how hard it is to leave the islands," Kea said. "It’s really expensive for us to come from Hawaii all the way out to the East Coast or wherever the big tournaments are. That’s why you don’t see too many teams from Hawaii. It’s a lot harder for us to get seen out here by college guys or even professional guys because they don’t know us. They don’t see us too often."

In spite of that obstacle, Kea was able to commit to Vanderbilt, his dream school he first heard about when school representatives visited Hawaii many years ago. Nowadays, he said it's the people he met on campus that made him feel at-home.

"I just fell in love with the coaches," Kea said. "The coaches are the best guys in the world."

Even though Kea could be spending some time in Tennessee, he wants people to remember where he originally comes from.

"I want to be remembered for being one of the best players out of Hawaii," Kea said. "[I want to] make it to the big leagues. There’s been a few great guys that made it to the big leagues from Hawaii already, but I want to be the best out of all of them."