Kamekona's presence felt in first month with Guardians

March 28th, 2023

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Amanda Kamekona walked through a small door in the right-field fence at Goodyear Ballpark with her head down, focusing on her work.

She was given the opportunity to sit in the big league dugout for a Cactus League game this spring to observe how the organization is run at the highest level. She walked through the warning track dirt and once she reached the outfield grass, she took a moment to look up and take in her surroundings.

Kamekona, affectionately known as “AK,” recognizes there aren’t a lot of women who have a position like this. She was hired as a hitting coach for the Guardians’ Arizona complex academy in February, becoming the first woman to be hired by the organization in an on-field role.

“It would be naïve of me to say, ‘No, it doesn’t matter and I don’t think about it,’” Kamekona said.

“Number one, we were hiring a hitting coach, we weren’t hiring a female hitting coach,” Guardians assistant general manager James Harris said. “She’s qualified. She’s experienced.”

Kamekona’s no stranger to this world. She began her playing career in baseball and played it until she was 16 years old. She still remembers the flier she got in middle school, encouraging boys and girls to try out for baseball. Her mother was a fan, growing up just down the road from Dodger Stadium. So, when the flier fell in her hands, she didn’t hesitate to give it a try.

Kamekona and her mom spent the week before tryouts playing catch and practicing taking ground balls. It wasn’t until the pitching machine was put on the field at practice that they realized they forgot to practice hitting.

“[My mom] was like, ‘I saw you watch everyone go in front of you and then you just grabbed a bat and just started hitting balls to the outfield,’” Kamekona said.

It was then that the family knew Kamekona found her sport.

She transitioned to softball in high school and only played fast-pitch for about 14 months before graduating. Top schools didn’t know her, considering she was late to the softball scene. She studied the game and its differences (especially with pitching) from baseball. Her efforts bore fruit -- she began her collegiate career at Cal State Fullerton before she thrived at UCLA.

Kamekona turned professional after her collegiate career. Once she decided to retire from her playing days, she coached at the Division II level, later taking on coaching duties for high school and travel ball as well. Out of everything that adorns her sparkling résumé, working with the 10U age group may have taught her the most.

“When an athlete is struggling to understand something you’re saying, it’s to go OK, ‘If I had to explain this to a 10-year-old, how would I do that?’” Kamekona said. “And typically, that helps us get on the same page to then foster more in-depth conversation after.”

Never would she have expected to use these tactics with professional baseball players.

Kamekona received a text from her friend Rachel Folden, who’s currently a Minor League hitting coordinator for the Cubs, that read, “Cleveland’s looking for a hitting coach and I think that you’d be a really good fit.”

“I’m looking and I’m going, ‘No, I’ve never thought about it, but if the opportunity came up, like, hell yeah,’” Kamekona said.

Kamekona connected with the organization, went through a long interview process and it was determined she was the best for the job.

“In softball, they have a rise ball, so they’ve solved the top of the zone equation -- and she’s actually done that as a player,” Harris said. “In baseball, that’s something that people are still trying to solve. … She can contribute things to conversation that expand on our current perspectives.”

“What’s really cool now is a lot of baseball is trickling into softball and vice versa, and that’s really exciting, too,” Kamekona said. “An elite swing is an elite swing.”

Kamekona hasn’t had a ton of time to settle in with Cleveland just yet, but she’s already developing relationships with the younger hitters in the Guardians’ organization and is actively helping improve Cleveland’s hitting department.

And she’s only getting started.

Kamekona almost has to pinch herself at times to remind herself where she is. The little girl who effortlessly picked up the game of baseball at a middle school tryout is suddenly in a professional baseball uniform, walking across the field of a Spring Training game, ready to observe her coworkers.

“During that walk, that’s when it clicked like, ‘Hey, dummy, look where you are right now,’” Kamekona said. “And I really took a moment to just [think], ‘Wow, I’m so lucky to get to call this work.’”