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Bonds to Hawaii

By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.

Love him or hate him, Barry Bonds is considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time. His numbers cannot be denied: 22 major league seasons. 2,986 games. 9,847 at-bats. 2,935 hits. 1,996 RBIs. 514 stolen bases. .298 batting average. 2,558 walks. 762 home runs. Seven NL MVP Awards.

And 44 games in a Hawaii uniform.

The year was 1986 and the 21-year-old Bonds, just a year removed from a stellar collegiate career at Arizona State, was being fast-tracked in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. The Pirates selected him with the No. 6 pick in the 1985 MLB Draft, and Bonds immediately displayed his potential with the club’s Class-A team in Woodbridge, Virginia (a team-leading .299 batting average, 37 RBIs and 13 homers in 71 games).

After further impressing the Pirates in training camp, Bonds was assigned to the organization’s Triple-A farm team, the Hawaii Islanders.

Even then, Bonds was confident in his abilities. “I don’t know when [I’ll get called up to the big leagues],” he told Honolulu Advertiser writer Ferd Borsch. “It might be six weeks. It might be at the end of the season. It might be next year. But when I do, I won’t be coming back [to the minors].”

Islanders skipper Tommy Sandt couldn’t disagree with his young star. “He has all the ability,” he said. “He just needs to play. He’s the best prospect I’ve seen come through the organization. He’s so talented that things come easy for him.”

Bonds had already experienced playing ball in the Islands.

”I played there [against the University of Hawaii] in 1983 and 1984,” he recalled. “I remember that I always played well there. And I had a lot of fun. I snorkeled once. And I surfed.”

(Bonds was 1 for 4 in his Rainbow Stadium debut, collecting a single off UH pitcher Bruce Walton on May 14, 1983. The Sun Devils won that game, 7-6, but Hawaii took the next two to win the three-game series.)

It took some time for Bonds to find his groove in Triple-A ball. At one point early in the season, his batting average was .188.

“He’s pressing,” Sandt told a Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporter. “He’s not swinging like he did in spring training. He’s trying to do too much.”

As Bonds got more comfortable, his numbers shot way up. In a May 5 road game against the Calgary Cannons, for example, he went 3 for 5 and knocked in 7 RBIs. His grand slam in the ninth sealed the 18-8 win for the Islanders.

Bonds got better and better, and the Pirates were watching.

Finally, on May 26, Bonds got the call.

His final stats as a Hawaii Islander: 44 games, 148 at-bats, 46 hits, 7 HRs, 37 RBIs, .311 batting average, 16 stolen bases, 33 walks and 31 strikeouts.

Without Bonds, the Islanders struggled and finished the year 65-79, their first losing campaign in seven seasons. Interestingly enough, in mid-July, the team signed a local sports hero in an effort to revive lagging fan interest. His name? Derek Tatsuno.

Imagine that. At one point in time, Barry Bonds and Derek Tatsuno could have been teammates.

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