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Hard work has always been part of Calderon's DNA

Apr. 25—1/1

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CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

UH's Naighel Ali'i Calderon nearly beat out this throw to first against Cal Poly on Sunday.

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University of Hawaii outfielder Naighel Ali'i Calderon has worked intensively to be spontaneous.

That leaping catch at the wall in the ninth inning last Friday? UH assistant coach Dave Nakama had prepped Calderon on adjusting to the cross winds' effect on fly balls at Les Murakami Stadium.

"I think I got a bad read on it," Calderon recalled. "The wind pushed it back. l wasn't expecting it to travel that far. I came up with the grab. It's one of those plays you make in the moment."

That walk-off double in the 11th inning on Sunday? Nakama and assistant coach Lindsay Meggs had repeatedly challenged Calderon to "lock" into every at bat. Calderon also embraced advice from Lanai High basketball coach Jimmy Fernandez. "He did a really good job of letting me know pressure is what makes diamonds," Calderon said.

As a high school senior, Calderon took advanced classes that earned college credits. "I knew I would go to college and it would benefit me in the long run, which it did," Calderon said. "It saved me some time and money."

His study partner was his mother, who returned to college to complete work on her degree. "She was taking college classes when I was taking college classes in high school," Calderon said.

Calderon grew up in Lanai City, where there is no public transportation or fast-food restaurants. Family-style meals are served at Cafe 565, movies are shown at Hale Keaka Lanai Theater, and the best workout is running the one-mile perimeter of Lanai City. To build and maintain strength for the football, basketball and baseball seasons, Calderon, like most of the Pineapple Island's athletes, trained at the school gym.

"There's a lot of talent there," Calderon said. "Look at Diesel (Del Rosario). He won a state (wrestling) championship. He has worked every day, day in and day out."

In February, Del Rosario, competing at 120 pounds, became the first student-athlete from Lanai to win a state wrestling championship.

Calderon also was a decorated high school athlete. He joined the 'Bows as a walk-on in August 2019. He was used sparingly in the COVID-abbreviated 2020 season and mostly as a pinch runner in 2021. He started in 14 of 22 games in 2022, and 30 games last year. Each year of his UH career, he earned recognition for academic accomplishments.

"Lanai is such a good place to grow up," Calderon said. "The teachers there did a very good job of instilling that school-work mentality."

In particular, Calderon credits teachers Michelle Fujie-Kaauamo and Linda Jones. "They made it so much fun to learn," Calderon said.

During the past fall training, Calderon received a partial scholarship. NCAA Division I teams are allotted the financial value of 11.7 scholarships, which they spread among up to 27 players.

"We were hitting in the cages and Coach Rich (Hill) pulled me to the side," Calderon said of the offer. "It was such a blessing for him to make it personable. He told me I worked hard. He told me I was deserving of it. He told me it wasn't going to be something big, but little did he know anything helps. Being from Hawaii, the cost of living is so crazy. Anything to help my family."

Calderon said he fulfilled the first of two promises. "Both of my parents work really hard," Calderon said. "They busted their butts for the family. ... I made a promise to my parents when I came to the University of Hawaii that I would get a scholarship at one point. Every day it was that mentality. I needed that so I could help my parents out."

The second promise? This May 11, Calderon will participate in UH's commencement ceremony.

BIG WEST BASEBALL

At Triton Ballpark, La Jolla, Calif.

Hawaii (22-15, 6-9 BW) vs. UC San Diego (26-11, 13-5 BW)

>> When: 3 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. Sunday

>> TV: None

>> Radio: 1420-AM/92.7-FM

>> Streaming: ESPN+