Maui rooting for Phils’ Victorino

Published 2:28 am Thursday, October 23, 2008

Michael Victorino stands along Hana Highway wearing an orchid lei, smiling and waving and holding a bright green sign bearing his last name as trucks rumble by.

It’s a day before Game 1 of the World Series, but he’s hardly campaigning for his son, Philadelphia center fielder Shane Victorino.

Instead, dad is running for a second term to the Maui County Council. And, he’s unopposed.

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‘‘I learned a long time ago, like athletics, no matter who you play, you practice the same way,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m working hard and doing the same things if I had an opponent.’’

Shane Victorino had those types of messages and values instilled in him all his life — work hard, be humble and take nothing, or no one, for granted.

Already appreciated in Philadelphia, the sparkplug has become popular throughout the baseball world for his approach — and success — in leading the Phillies into Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Flyin’ Hawaiian is definitely the talk of the town.

‘‘Everybody is so proud,’’ said Randall Joyo, who works at Alamo rental car. ‘‘Even tourists ask about him. They know he’s from Maui.’’

Victorino was born and raised in this sleepy town at the base of the green and rugged West Maui mountains, where the people are as welcoming and warm as the sunshine. Wailuku is a low-key, tight-knit, shorts-and-flip flop community that has been able to preserve its old buildings, rural charm and plantation roots.

There are no swank resorts or gated mansions here, like the ones that have replaced the sugarcane fields on other parts of the island.

At Saint Anthony’s, where Victorino graduated in 1999, a banner hanging on the chain-link fence reads: ‘‘We’re proud of you Shane Victorino.’’

On Friday, the 250-student Catholic school will have Shane Victorino Day to honor their star alumnus. The students, who usually wear navy blue uniform tops, will wear Philly red.

‘‘It’s not common to come from this tiny, little school and make it out of Maui, and he’s pasted all over national and local news,’’ school spokeswoman Gin Nary said.

Many students will wear makeshift Phillies No. 8 T-shirts because Victorino jerseys are as impossible to find on Maui as a gallon of gas under $4.

The 27-year-old switch-hitter started playing baseball here when he was 6. He mostly played shortstop and pitcher as a youth. In high school, he played every position except catcher and was the No. 2 pitcher.

He was a four-sport star, which meant he ran track in the same season he played baseball. There were times when he would leave a baseball game, change into his track outfit, go run the 100, 200 or 400, and return to the ballgame. He also was a football and soccer standout.

‘‘When he got home and laid down, he would be dead asleep. As soon as he got up, that battery was fully charged. Watch out,’’ his father said.

After high school, Shane earned scholarship offers from the University of Hawaii to play football or baseball, but opted to pursue his hope of making the major leagues.

Victorino believes his son’s nickname is fitting because of the ‘‘blazing speed’’ he had since childhood. Shane Victorino is also of Hawaiian ancestry, as well as Portuguese, English and Japanese descent.

His parents, however, had another nickname for him: ‘‘Pain.’’

‘‘He was such a naughty little guy. He would get into everything and anything,’’ Victorino said of his son.

As a child, his dad said, Shane was treated at the emergency room 10 times. Once he was hit by a car and had 28 stitches.

‘‘And that’s before he was 5 years old,’’ the father Victorino said. ‘‘And I’m not exaggerating.’’

Shane struggled as a child with attention-deficit disorder, which made him just ‘‘go, go, go’’ with endless energy, his father said. Sports gave him a way to direct that energy and focus.

Today, he has emerged as one of the Phillies’ most dependable and clutch players. Besides a grand slam off Milwaukee ace CC Sabathia in the first round of the playoffs, he drove in four runs and made a leaping catch to help beat Los Angeles in Game 2 of the NL championship series.

After the game, he learned of the death of his grandmother, whom he called ‘‘Vovo.’’

Her funeral will be Nov. 2 or 3, after the World Series.

‘‘I wanted it all done so Shane can come home in relative peace, so we can lay her to rest and have a moment together as a family,’’ his father said.

For his alma mater, Shane serves an example of someone who succeeded, even from a tiny school that promotes faith and character over athletics.

‘‘I don’t know if he realizes what he has done for our school,’’ social studies teacher Lilyana Koa said. ‘‘But for my classes, the students know that if you work hard and follow your dreams, it can happen. They’re really inspired.’’

Victorino is the first island player to reach the World Series since the New York Mets’ Benny Agbayani in 2000. Before that, it was the Mets’ Sid Fernandez in 1986.

It’s another chapter in Hawaii’s rich baseball history.

The sport was introduced to the islands by Alexander Cartwright, regarded as the father of modern baseball more than a century before Hawaii became a state. He later organized teams and taught the game all over Hawaii.

Cartwright died July 12, 1892, and is buried in Honolulu.

Stars like Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio played in the islands. The state was home to the Hawaiian Islanders of the Pacific Coast League for 27 years and hosts Hawaii Winter Baseball.

More currently, Hawaii is home to two of the past four Little League World Series champions.

The tiny town of Wailuku actually boasts two native sons in the majors: Victorino and Oakland Athletics catcher Kurt Suzuki.

On Tuesday, Shane called his father following the Phillies’ final workout before the World Series. His father’s only words of advice: ‘‘Be true to yourself. Play hard.’’

Victorino plans to fly across the country Wednesday to watch Shane in the World Series. Besides the day when his son became an Eagle Scout, he couldn’t be prouder.

‘‘He developed into quite a young man,’’ the elder Victorino said. ‘‘If anything, he broke the stereotype that the local boy cannot go onto the large stage and handle himself.’’