HONOLULU -- Upon returning to his home state of Hawaii, Padres reliever Kirby Yates makes it a point to enjoy some fresh "poke" (pronounced POH-kay) -- a Hawaiian staple of seasoned raw fish.A Kauai native and product of Kauai High School, Yates usually returns to the "808 state" in the
HONOLULU -- Upon returning to his home state of Hawaii, Padres reliever Kirby Yates makes it a point to enjoy some fresh "poke" (pronounced POH-kay) -- a Hawaiian staple of seasoned raw fish.
A Kauai native and product of Kauai High School, Yates usually returns to the "808 state" in the offseason to spend down time with family and friends. However, this offseason homecoming trip also involves some business.
Yates is part of the Major League squad taking part in the Hawaii Workout, a stopover trip that began Saturday afternoon at Les Murakami Stadium on the University of Hawaii at Manoa campus in Honolulu. He is joined by 2018 All-Stars Yadier Molina (Cardinals), J.T. Realmuto (Marlins catcher), Mitch Haniger (Mariners outfielder) and Eugenio Suarez (Reds infielder), as well as star rookie outfielders Juan Soto (Nationals) and Ronald Acuna Jr. (Braves).
• MLB stars prepare in Hawaii for Japan Series
Players, coaches and support staff are spending the weekend on Oahu before heading to Japan for the 2018 Japan All-Star Series, which pits MLB players against counterparts from Nippon Professional Baseball in seven games from Nov. 8-15.
"The last time I was standing on this field was for my last high school game, so I'm very fortunate to be invited to come and be a part of something like this," said Yates, who was one of the players who engaged in light warmup drills and took batting practice before spending time with hundreds of young ballplayers at the Play Ball event Saturday. "To see the kids' faces and having them scream my name, it's pretty surreal.
"Whenever you see [a Major Leaguer] who is actually doing it, who grew up playing here, went to high school and played on this field, then can make it to the next level and come back with an MLB uniform, it's important to let them know that it can be done. I hope that they feel like they can accomplish anything."
Players from the University of Hawaii also participated in the Play Ball event. Local youth baseball and softball players learned from their hometown heroes at the professional and collegiate levels, and visited multiple stations, including home run derby, base running and bat-and-ball games. The experience marked the first time Play Ball was held in Hawaii.
"We're all star-struck, we're seeing guys we watch on TV and who we've seen growing up," University of Hawaii senior infielder Ethan Lopez said after snapping a selfie with All-Star Series manager Don Mattingly. "Just to see them on our field, playing catch and doing things we do as players, it's an amazing experience. I'm trying to take it all in; even watching the way they warm up, and where they position their gloves, these big-name guys are in our home stadium. It's fun to have an experience like this."
Prior to the Play Ball event, the 2018 Little League World Series champions from Hawaii were honored, and players had the rare opportunity to take pictures with and learn from their big league idols during the workout.
"I'm looking forward to hanging out with the MLB players and the UH players, too, because I want to see and learn their different styles of playing the game," said Ka'olu Holt, an eighth-grader at Kamehameha Schools Kapalama, who was the winning pitcher in the Little League title game.
Holt said he set his sights on meeting Molina.
"Yadier is one of my favorite players, and he's on my favorite team," Holt said. "This is a great opportunity for us to thank the people who have supported us, and so that we can give back to the little kids watching us who want to play baseball, too."
Ceremonial baseballs were used during Saturday's festivities to mark Major League Baseball's nationwide tour geared toward bringing Play Ball to all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
The All-Star Series extends a longtime tradition that dates back to 1908, and will mark the 37th time that Major Leaguers have toured Japan for exhibition games. The series will be played in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagoya, and MLB Network will provide extensive coverage, including live game telecasts from Nov. 9-15.
Kyle Galdeira is a contributor to MLB.com.