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Longtime friends Sean Yamaguchi and Tanner Chun bring balance to Saint Louis

May 14—1/4

Saint Louis baseball seniors Sean Yamaguchi, top and far left, and Tanner Chun have grown to become leaders for the Crusaders. Before that, they were teammates on the Honolulu Little League team that won the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., in 2018. They were celebrated upon their return on Aug. 27, 2018.

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STAR-ADVERTISER

World Little League Champion Honolulu Little League player Tanner Chun upon the team's arrival at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, Monday, August 27, 2018.

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STAR-ADVERTISER

World Little League Champion Honolulu Little League player Sean Yamaguchi upon the team's arrival at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, Monday, August 27, 2018.

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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

Long-time teammates Sean Yamaguchi, left, and Tanner Chun posed in front of a "Brotherhood" sign at Saint Louis on Monday.

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Having more than two mothers in his family tree is a rare gift for a young man.

Sean Yamaguchi has his mom, Leina. There's Leina's mom, Michelle Hinahara. There's Nana — Effie Yamaguchi — his father Mike's mom. And there's great-grandmother Jeanette Watanabe on his mom's side.

Yamaguchi spent time with all of the mothers in his bloodline on Mother's Day.

"It was very great. They all play a huge role in my life. Just being around them makes my day," he said.

Sean Yamaguchi's longtime teammate Tanner Chun also spent Mother's Day serving his mom.

Why else do parents allow their child to get a driver's license?

"We went out for lunch and dinner. I just wanted ice cream, so we went to a Japanese place next to Baskin Robbins (at Kamehameha Shopping Center)," Terri Chun said. "We took our dog to the doctor to get her nails done. They were long, so she was biting them. Tanner drove me all over. He did all the chores. He and I are pretty close, so he's more than willing to help me."

Chun and Yamaguchi have played together since their days as Honolulu Saints. The two played for the Hawaii squad that won the 2018 Little League World Series. Like Yamaguchi, Chun grew up around baseball.

"I remember he was so little. He started at 4 years old. So tiny," said Terri Chun, his mother. "Hanging out with the other boys. Baseball was always fun for him. He loved it."

Terri Chun has probably lost track of how many practices and games she's taken her youngest child to. She knew years ago that his teammate Sean would be his lifelong friend.

"They've been friends since elementary, playing together. They balance each other out. At the time, Tanner was going to Saint Louis. Seanny came in seventh grade," she recalled.

Saint Louis had a successful run under George Gusman, and when administration opted to hire former major league and Japan league standout Benny Agbayani, there were mixed emotions in and outside the program. Yamaguchi and Chun provided much of the day-to-day stability to make the transition as smooth as possible.

"Coach Gus was big on that, leadership. I told Coach Benny the same thing — we're going to help him lead this team," Yamaguchi said. "I'm really surprised how well we did with only three returning starters. Going up against a tough Kamehameha team, but it made everybody a better player."

Agbayani recognizes the two players' importance.

"They are leaders in their own ways. When I took over, I told them I need them two to lead this team. They've done a very good job. We wouldn't be in this situation if I didn't have those two guys," Agbayani said. "With their leadership, the other guys respect them."

Saint Louis (14-7) finished second in the ILH and enters the state tournament ranked No. 2 in the Star-Advertiser Baseball Top 10. The arduous journey included a four-way tie for first place in the regular season. Saint Louis won the two-round tiebreaker to seal a state-tournament berth. The Crusaders then lost to Kamehameha in the double-elimination tournament and subsequent championship game.

Yamaguchi leads the Crusaders in RBIs (14) while batting .407 with 10 runs scored. He has 10 stolen bases and an on-base percentage of .521. Chun has put his elite speed to work. The 6-foot senior leads Saint Louis with 21 runs scored, five doubles, two home runs and 16 stolen bases. He has also been valuable on the mound with a team-high five wins. He has 32 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings pitched with a 2.78 ERA.

He has also walked 33 batters, but he did the job for the Crusaders in a long ILH season. His next stop is Tulane.

Yamaguchi will play at Nevada, joined by Mid-Pacific ace Payton Dixon. The MLB draft might change their paths.

"I know they both want to get drafted," Agbayani said. "My advice is, if you think 100% you're ready to take on this challenge, it would be a great thing for them. The drawback is they have their college paid for, stay for three years, prepare yourself, take your chance. It's a gamble, like going to Vegas. Especially in pro ball, once you get released, it's hard to get another job."

Today, it's a new season as the Wally Yonamine Foundation/HHSAA Baseball State Championships begin at Les Murakami Stadium. Saint Louis will face Roosevelt in the opening round in a 7 p.m. matchup.

Agbayani coached his daughters to a softball state title at 'Iolani. Watching players develop and flourish has a flavor and depth of its own. Yamaguchi was a young player when Agbayani first saw him play.

"I coached Sean when he was little in our Ehime Maru Goodwill Tournament. I'm still involved with that. He was about 12, just a spunky little kid who just loves the game. Just one of those kids you're surprised you get to coach him," Agbayani recalled. "He was super athletic. He wanted to play every position on the field. He was catching for me at that time. He was a good catch and he could hit all right."

Chun was new to Agbayani.

"This year is the first time I'm seeing Tanner play. He's been a pretty good athlete. You can put him anywhere on the field, but I didn't want to change the dynamics," Agbayani said. "I knew he played center field and he could pitch, so I left it like that."

Back in youth baseball, Yamaguchi was given a nickname by one of his Little League coaches, a compliment in honor of MLB pitcher Bartolo Colon: "Big Sexy."

"That was when I was 8. My brother's coach actually gave me that name. My coach was a fan of (Colon) and my body structure and the way I acted reminded me of him," Yamaguchi said.

If that seems a bit too strong of a nickname for a young player, his family — including his mom, grandmothers and great-grandmother — took it in stride.

"We fully went with it. Sean was always chubby when he was younger. He would always like to dress nice. Nice shoes. Nice caps. He would always have that swag about him, so we always rolled with it," Leina Yamaguchi said. "In Little League, when he got to Pennsylvania, they said they couldn't say it on national TV, so the other choices were 'Seanny Boy' and 'Da Hammah.' We never saw it in a negative way. I think that coach gave it to him out of a sort of respect."

To this day, Yamaguchi's handle on IG remains @biigseexy_.

Agbayani has a simple but direct message for this team.

"I just want to see them go out there, do their best, leave everything on the field," Agbayani said. "Can't have no regrets. The last hurrah. Lead this team and go out there, every inning, every at-bat, every pitch. Make everything count."

The clock is ticking. The years turn into months, which turn into days. The next chapter is about independence. Freedom. Not having parents to lean on.

"We're going to miss his daily presence. Sean always finds a way to make light of a difficult situation. Something to make us laugh. I don't know how to explain it. He's just a special kid. That knack and charisma, making people smile, talking to anyone and getting along with them easily," Leina Yamaguchi said. "To this day, he still communicates with them. That's an amazing gift."

New Orleans, where Tulane is located, is about as far from home as it gets.

"Tanner really got along with the coaches. They really clicked. They made him feel part of the family when he went to visit," Terri Chun said. "He wants to experience a different culture. As a parent, he's my baby and I felt confident in the coaches that I could trust him. I really feel like they'll take care of him. He's very driven, a hard worker. He enjoys life. He knows how to keep things in perspective. Mostly, he has a good heart. This year has gone by fast, but the last two weeks are going by even faster."

SEAN YAMAGUCHI

Saint Louis baseball —Senior

>> Top 3 movies/shows

1. "A Bronx Tale"

2. "The Office"

3. "The Godfather"

"I watched 'The Office' twice during COVID. There's a sense of humor only certain people find funny. I like Michael."

>> Top 3 food

1. Acai bowl (Down to Earth, Pearlridge)

2. Vitamin Water (Tropical Citrus)

3. Chicken katsu (L&L Hawaiian Barbecue)

>> Top 3 homemade food

1. Mom's beef Stew

2. Dad's bison burgers

3. Mom's mac Salad

"My mom (Leina) makes her stew pretty regularly. More so for special occasions, but pretty often. Whenever there's bison in the stores, my dad (Mike) will buy."

>> Top 3 music artists

1. Kalapana — "What Do I Do"

2. Likkle Jordee — "Joker"

3. The Green — "Lover Tonight"

>> Favorite athlete: Shane Victorino

"I met him. His brother works with my dad. Last time I talked to him face to face was after we won LLWS (2018). He rented Dave & Buster's for us."

>> Favorite team: Tampa Bay Rays

>> Funniest teammate: Kolby Gushiken

>> Smartest teammate: Shea Yamaguchi

>> GPA: 4.2

"I'm taking AP Psychology and AP English Literature. Psychology is fun."

>> Favorite teacher: "All my teachers at Saint Louis."

>> Favorite class: Weight training

>> Favorite motto/scripture: "Hard work always pays off" — Papa Alan (Hinahara)

"He's my grandpa from my mom's side. I was probably the closest to him. He came to every one of my baseball games. We would just talk about the games after. We always wanted to go to the 2020 WS, but we weren't able to go."

>> Hidden talent: Rubik's Cube

"I can solve a Rubik's Cube in around a minute. I found a Rubik's Cube in the Dollar Tree in Iowa. I was there for my brother's baseball tournament. I didn't finish it before the end of the trip, but now I can't forget how to solve a Rubik's Cube. I was 10. It stuck with me forever. It's nothing now."

>> New life skill: How to balance my school work and athletics

>> Bucket list: Japan

"I recently went to Japan. I loved it. It was during New Year. They have the mystery packages you can buy. If I could go again, I would go to Japan."

>> Time machine: "I would travel to the 2020 World Series with my family and most importantly Papa Alan."

>> Youth sports: baseball and football

"When I was growing up I was better in football. I was around baseball more, so I pursued it more. My brother only played baseball."

>> If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?

"I would tell my younger self to always live in the moment. Don't take any time with your loved ones for granted. Keep smiling and most importantly always have fun."

>> Shoutouts: "I would like to shout-out my family. My brother Michael for always being there for me. My parents for always supporting me and keeping me in check. My grandma Michelle (Hinahara) for always taking care of me, Aunty Roxy (Yamaguchi) for always coming to my games, Nana, and Papa (Mike Yamaguchi). Lastly, my Papa Alan who isn't here with me anymore, but I know he is watching down on me."

TANNER CHUN

Saint Louis baseball —Senior

>> Top 3 movies/shows

1. "The Office"

2. "Friends"

3. "Field of Dreams"

"We were able to play some tournaments at that field in Iowa."

>> Top 3 foods/drinks

1. Po' boy sandwich

2. Steak

3. Dr. Pepper

"Po' boys are the best sandwiches."

>> Top 3 homemade food

1. Mom's chili

2. Mom's roast pork

3. Mom's loco moco.

"I can make the loco moco."

>> Top 3 music artists/favorite song

1. Drake

2. The Green — "Summertime"

3. Likkle Jordee — "Cool and Deadly."

>> Favorite athlete: Kobe Bryant

>> Favorite team: St. Louis Cardinals

"I loved watching Kolten Wong and Yadier Molina play."

>> Funniest teammates: Sean Yamaguchi and Kolby Gushiken

"That's just his nature. Sean is naturally funny. He's just a fun guy to be around."

>> Smartest teammate: "We have a lot of smart guys. Shay Yamaguchi."

>> GPA: 4.2

>> Favorite teacher: My counselor Mrs. (Cheryl) Fung

>> Favorite class: Weight training

>> Favorite motto/scripture: "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

>> New life skill: driving

>> Bucket list: "Go to Japan. Skydive."

>> Time machine: "I would go back to my younger days and have fun again."

>> Youth sports: baseball, basketball, football

>> If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?

"Don't worry about the future. Just have fun with your family and friends."

>> Shoutouts: "My family, mom and dad, my two sisters."