Friday, October 10, 2008
Interview with Phillies Shane Victorino
Shane Shines on the Field and on the Track
A Conversation with Shane Victorino from Runners Gazette Magazine
BY JACK HEATH
On Sunday, September 30 2007, the Phillies clinched the National League East Championship and their first trip to the National League Playoffs since 1993. Many of the Phillies players said that one of the keys to the Phillies season was a bunt by Shane Victorino a few days before against Atlanta Braves ace John Smoltz that had propelled the Phillies to a 4-0 lead. Victorino’s 20-foot bunt was the key hit and the catalyst in a must-win victory over the Braves as the Phillies closed on the faltering Mets. Victorino celebrated the Phillies improbable comeback--down 7 games to the Mets with 17 games to play in September by squirting the fans with a fire hose. They didn’t seem to mind. The story of how Victorino went from a small school in a small town in Hawaii to one of the most popular members of a championship Phillies team is a story every bit as inspiring and unexpected as the Phillies magical march to the Playoffs this season.
Many of us have had a coach or parent or friend tell us that running would lead to greater things. For Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino this is literally true. Running led Shane Victorino to the Big Leagues. This year five ft. 9 in, 180-pound Victorino led the Phillies with 10 assists and 34 stolen as well as leading the Phillies to one of their most exciting seasons in at least 14 years--since the exciting 1993 team. The 26-year-old Victorino grew up in a tight-knit family in an unusual place for a baseball player?Wailuku Hawaii. In fact, Shane is only the second Hawaiian born in Maui (Tony Rego, 1924 St Louis Browns) to make the major leagues. The first Hawaiian player to make the Majors was “Honolulu Johnnie” Williams, a pitcher who had a “cup of Kona” with the Detroit Tigers in 1914, appearing in only four games.
Shane’s mother, Joycelyn, explains: “Shane running track was directly responsible for him getting drafted. He won the 100, 200, and 400 in the Hawaiian State Track Championships. It was the first time he had run the 400 and he was only entered because a teammate couldn’t run that day. I remember looking at the starting line of the 400 and thinking, my little Shane, what is he in for here? He was smaller than everyone else in the field and has never run this distance before. Coming around the final turn he was the first one and he had a big lead.” Victorino flashed through that 400 in 50.35.
Victorino lettered in four sports at St. Anthony’s: baseball, football, soccer, and track and his mother remembers him changing from his baseball to track uniform and spikes when he had both on the same day. Victorino was offered a full ride to the University of Hawaii for football as a kicker, punt returner, and defensive back, and he also caught the eyes of the Dodgers who selected him in the sixth round of the draft that June based largely on his speed. It was around this time that Shane picked up his first nickname “the Flyin’ Hawaiian” for his speed.
Shane, who led the major leagues in assists (throwing out a runner from the outfield) for much of the season, joked with writer Jayson Stark that he developed his strong arm throwing coconuts in Maui. Shane did not throw the javelin in high school but one can’t help think that with his strong arm he would have won that event as well.
Ironically, Shane’s father, Michael, didn’t play baseball, but basketball, growing up: “I was pretty busy on the farm in Wailuku but being tall for an Hawaiian (a shade over six ft.) I did play basketball for the University of Hawaii in Maui and I was the center.
“At one tournament I bumped into Robert Parish the seven-foot Celtic great who was playing for Centenary College of Louisiana. He asked me who our center was and when I said ‘me’ I could see the shocked look on his face!” Michael Victorino is now a councilman in Wailuku.
Joycelyn recalls the closeness of Shane and his brother, Michael Jr., growing up: “They are four-and-a-half years apart but are as close as twins. When one is going through something the other one feels it too. They are very close.”
Because of his speed and his propensity to sometimes bowl over opposing players Victorino progressed through the Dodgers and Padres systems earning another nickname-- “the Maui Masher.” His dad recalls Shane running over a first baseman on a close play at first. The first baseman looked around first for Shane who was already standing on third.
From the Dodgers, Shane made his way to the Phillies first as a “Rule 5” draftee and finally as a starting right fielder. This year Shane had a “bobble hip” doll giveaway in his honor. (The hula doll features Victorino in a traditional hula costume with bare feet, a grass skirt, holding a ukulele, and flashing the “shaka” or hang-loose sign—Shane said that he liked the doll and it was a fairly good facsimile.) Fittingly, Victorino sent the crowd of 44,000 people home deliriously happy with a walk-off home run on his day to win the game. Shane also managed to give the “shaka” sign to his teammates before crossing home plate for the winning run.
The high-energy Victorino, who always steps up to bat at Citizens Bank Park to the rousing tune of Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldiers” took time out to talk to Runner’s Gazette before a recent home game at Citizens Bank Park.
JH: Shane, Can you tell us a little about your family and where you grew up and went to school?
SV: I grew up in Wailuku, on the island of Maui Hawaii. It’s a small plantation town in Wailuku. I went to school in Wailuku Elementary school then to St Anthony’s High School, a small Catholic high school.
JH: What sports did you and your brother Michael play growing up?
SV: My brother Michael and I were both involved with many sports: Football, baseball, and soccer.
JH: When did you realize you might become a major league player? Was it a goal of yours as a kid?
SV: I always wanted to play a professional sport. But growing up it didn’t really matter which one.
JH: How (and when) did you first get involved with track? What events did you do?
SV: I ran a little Kiwanis in middle school, but I really didn’t get involved in track until high school at St Anthony’s. St Anthony’s is a small Catholic school—there were only 64 graduates in my class.
JH: What have your parents taught you about sports?
SV: They taught me to set goals, work hard, and never give up!
JH: You set the Hawaiian state 100-meter record in 1999. An editor at Track and Field News said you were one of the top high school track men in the country--which other events and times did you run?
SV: My fastest times were a 10.5 in the 100 and a 21.3 in the 200 meters. I did both relays (the 100 and 400) and also long jumped.
JH: How instrumental was running track in starting your professional baseball career?
SV: Running track kept me in shape and I would definitely say it also helped my speed.
JH: What’s the longest distance you’ve ever run?
SV: The 400 meters is the furthest I ever ran in an actual event.
JH: How much do you run (miles a day) pre-season and during the season?
SV: I do much more running in the off-season than during the season. There is a lot more time to run after the season.
JH: Do you run on the roads or at the ballpark during the season?
SV: I run on a treadmill a lot and on occasion I run on the streets.
JH: Do you think you may be interested in running some 5K or 10K races some day?
SV: Never—those races are too far for me!
JH: What are some of your goals for this season?
SV: My main goal is just to be a better player at the end of the season than I was at the start.
(Note Shane has had a common runner’s injury?a calf strain for much of the last third of this season.)
JH: If you had to pick 3 of your teammates (besides yourself) to round out a 4 x 100 meter Phillies relay team who would they be?
SV: I would say Jimmy Rollins, Michael Bourn, and Ryan Howard !! (Note: big first baseman Ryan Howard, not known for his speed, had stolen his first major-league base right before the interview and Shane had presented him with the actual base afterwards as a souvenir).
JH: Can you tell us about your favorite Hawaiian food?
SV: Lau Lau. It’s pork, beef, and chicken wrapped together in taro leaves which is then placed in the center of ti leaves, steamed and then baked. It’s good.
JH: What do you miss the most from Hawaii while playing in Philly?
SV: I’d have to say I miss the food from Hawaii the most.
JH: Many baseball players and runners are superstitious before their games/races. Do you have any superstitions?
SV: No, I am not superstitious. I have zero superstitions.
JH: How does your dad like being a councilman in Wailuku so far?
SV: He is very happy. He likes doing things to help people and to better our country.
JH: As a track coach I hate to see players dive for first in a foot race to the bag. It seems to me be a lot faster to run through the bag (or runners would be diving at the finish of the 100 meters) Do you agree?
SV: I agree. I dive only to avoid a tag on a bad throw!
Shane, Here’s hoping you, your family, and the Phillies have only “Pomaika`I” (good luck) and “Olakino Maika'I” (good health)!
This article formerly appeared in Runners Gazette Magazine- http://www.runnersgazette.com/ A very special thanks to John Brazer of the Phillies, Brad Sherman the Sports Editor of the Maui News, the Maui News, and the Victorino family for their kind assistance.
Here is a link to Shane's blog http://shanevictorino.mlblogs.com/