Murphy, Cain and Duda share Hawaiian roots
Winter ball on Oahu was training ground for aspiring Major Leaguers
If the "six degrees of separation" concept applies to the real world, then the baseball world -- with its myriad leagues, levels and opportunities for players to have been on a team together -- operates on about three degrees of separation.
Royals players Lorenzo Cain and Drew Butera and Mets players Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy may be on opposing sides in the 2015 World Series, but they can all trace their baseball roots back to the island of Oahu. They all played winter ball in the now-defunct Hawaii Winter Baseball, a league with which Major League Baseball had a three-year contract from 2006-08.
In 2006, Cain and Butera were members of the North Shore Honu, along with Mets pitcher Bobby Parnell, who did not make the team's postseason roster. In 2007, Murphy and Duda played together on the Waikiki Beach Boys. Cain, Butera, Duda and Murphy will all be in uniform for Game 3 on Friday (7:30 p.m ET air time on FOX, game time 8 p.m. ET) when the World Series shifts to Citi Field.
Murphy's most notable memory of his time in Hawaii?
"It was fun, but it was so expensive," he said. "Living on Waikiki Beach isn't cheap, and we didn't exactly make a bunch of money."
The four-team Hawaiian league provided an opportunity for the game's younger and less experienced prospects to compete in an Arizona Fall League-style format alongside both North American players and players from Japan and Korea; it was the only winter league to feature both Asian and American talent. None of the Japanese players went on to be stars, and at the time, the American players were mostly second-tier prospects who had upside or one standout tool that needed work. But clearly, for many of the Americans, the work paid off.
"It was a good opportunity to play baseball in an interesting place, and I had never been to Hawaii before," Cain said. "There were a lot of good players there, including [the Cubs'] Dexter Fowler, [the Giants'] Buster Posey and the Dodgers' closer, Kenley Jansen. We also had a lot of Japanese players. They have a different high-leg swing, a different pitching m.o., and the way they play the game is totally different, so it was good to see."
In addition to the quartet of alums in the World Series, and Fowler and Jansen, the postseason has had a Hawaiian feel, as Austin Jackson of the Cubs and Marco Estrada of the Blue Jays also spent time in HWB.
As in the AFL, in an effort to set up a relaxed, low-key learning environment in which even players who did not start had time to get quality instruction, players in HWB always had two days off per week -- Mondays and Thursdays.
"The designated time off meant we were able to work on things to get better and advance against better competition," Butera said. "We got to work on things offensively and defensively, learn from different coaches with different ideas, learn from players you were playing with and against. In that scenario, you play almost like Double-A competition, so it was really good competition every night."
Despite their geographically disparate names, the four teams -- North Shore, Waikiki, the Honolulu Sharks and West Oahu Canefires -- played out of two ballparks: Les Murakami Stadium, a 4,300-seat park on the campus of University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu, and Hans L'Orange Field, a 2,200-seat stadium on the campus of Hawaii Pacific University in Waipahu, 15 miles west. So on those extra off-days, the beach was always nearby.
"We went surfing one time and got into a pretty funny situation," Butera said. "In between sets, Bobby Parnell had his ankle leash grabbed and his board tilted down into the water. We all freaked out instantly because we thought it was a shark. We all thought, 'We're going down.' After about a minute of total panic, the leash let go and we saw a turtle swim away."
Coincidentally, Honu, the name of their team, is the Hawaiian word for sea turtle.
Murphy, for his part, steered clear of the water.
"I don't do the ocean very well," he said. "And I don't take my shirt off in public."
In 2006, catcher Butera, then 22, hit .232 in 21 games for the Honu. Center fielder Cain, then 20, hit .231 in 29 games, while stealing 12 bases. In 2007, the 21-year-old Duda hit .340 with 13 RBIs in 15 games for the Beach Boys. Murphy, then 22, hit .274 with 21 RBIs and 17 runs scored in 26 games.
"I was coming out of short-season ball at the time, so playing against High-A and Double-A players was a big jump for me," Duda said. "But I enjoyed it."