Speedy Victorino took slow path
Young outfielder has impressed teammates with poise
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- News on the islands travels fast, so it didn't take scouts roaming the beaches and baseball outposts in Hawaii long to uncover a gem.In scouting top pitching talent Jerome Williams -- who is now with Washington -- in Honolulu, those with an eye for talent discovered a speedy high school shortstop on the neighboring island of Maui. "Everybody scouting [Williams] in Oahu heard about me in Maui," said Shane Victorino, whose speed made him more suited for the outfield. "When my brother played, you never saw scouts. All of a sudden, in my senior year, there were all these people in nice collared shirts and slacks. I was wondering, 'What's going on?' It was nice to get that chance and the recognition." As one of 64 graduates from St. Anthony, a private Catholic school in Wailuku, Victorino had a choice to make in 1999. The fleet-flooted athlete -- who had won state sprint championships at 100, 200 and 400 meters -- could take a full ride to the University of Hawaii, where he would be a kicker, punt returner and defensive back on the football team, or sign with the Dodgers, who had selected him in the sixth round of the draft that June. "I didn't want to be a kicker in the NFL," Victorino said. "It's not as manly." That realization helped him make a decision -- along with the fact that Victorino figured his athletic skills were better suited for baseball. Despite holding the school record with a 48-yard field goal and playing nearly every down, he realized that he wasn't big enough for football. His coach realized, too, and pushed him toward baseball. "My senior year, he used me as a decoy, but in the end it worked out," Victorino said. "I could have gone out there and gotten hurt." Victorino didn't want to head to Europe to try to play soccer professionally. Long talks with his father, Michael -- who was always active in his sports life -- helped him decide. Opting for baseball, Victorino signed for $115,000 and ventured through the Dodgers organization. The Padres selected him in the 2002 Rule 5 Draft, but returned him. The Phillies took him in December 2004, then worked out a deal to keep him in 2005 after he didn't make the club out of Spring Training. Rule 5 picks must stay on the 25-man roster for the entire season or be offered back to organization from which they were drafted. Luckily, the Dodgers didn't want Victorino back. He emerged at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre in 2005, earning the International League's MVP Award, then showed enough in September to be considered a fourth outfielder for 2006. He became so much more, filling in for Aaron Rowand first in May, then for the rest of the season after Rowand broke his left ankle in August. Between those assignments, he excelled in right field after Bobby Abreu was traded.
"He's gotten better, route-wise, since I've been here," said Rowand, Victorino's neighbor in center field. "Mentally, he's matured. He's done a good job taking information in -- the aura of the big leagues -- and being relaxed enough to apply it."Davey Lopes, the team's new first-base coach, worked with Victorino in San Diego and compared his defensive abilities to those of Steve Finley. Offensively, Lopes intends to unlock Victorino's base-stealing ability, giving him tips on getting jumps and reading pitchers. If Victorino swipes 20 more bags, he'll pass Lenn Sakata for the most by a Hawaiian. "Relaxed," as Rowand put it, is an appropriate way to describe Victorino. Jamie Moyer recently observed that the laid-back 26-year-old switch-hitter remained the same during the playoff crunch last season, whether he went 0-for-4 or 4-for-4. "That's important," Moyer said. "Andre Dawson was like that, too." This doesn't mean Victorino is quiet. His voice often pierces the clubhouse, whether he's dishing out wisecracks or responding to ones directed at him. He claims to be a fantastic bowler, though that is often refuted. Unsuspecting reporters often must watch for baseballs rolling in their direction. "He's in everybody's business," said Jimmy Rollins, Victorino's landlord during the season. "He's definitely a spark. He holds it down when I'm not around, and when I get there, I let him have it." Victorino's Hawaiian heritage is making him popular as well, and he takes great pride in it, though he quickly points out that he's never owned a surfboard and is a self-proclaimed "land guy."
"My best friends are good athletes," he said. "While they were [surfing], I was playing sports."He recently appeared in a grass skirt and lei to promote the Shane Victorino Hula figurine, which will be given to fans on June 3 at Citizens Bank Park. The figure will have him in shorts with a grass skirt, holding a ukulele and flashing the shaka sign, for "hang loose." It should go over well with his older brother and father, both named Michael Victorino, the eldest of whom is a member of the Maui city council. "It brings out my culture," said Victorino, who's not much into dancing. "Being from a beautiful place like Hawaii is something I take pride in. I lived 5 to 10 minutes from the beach. It's nice, crystal-blue water. It's so beautiful. As a child, you take it for granted being from there. Once I left to go play pro ball, I went to Montana and saw mountains and rivers, then went back home to Maui and remember saying, 'Wow, this is where I live.' "Home will always be home. It's so beautiful. I see whales all the time in the offseason. You can see them off the cliff swimming in the water." In 2003, Victorino followed Tony Rego, a catcher born Antone DoRego in Victorino's hometown of Wailuku, as the second Hawaiian born in Maui to play in the Major Leagues. Rego batted .286 in 44 games for the St. Louis Browns in 1924-25. The first Hawaiian-born player in the Majors was "Honolulu Johnnie" Williams, a pitcher who made four appearances with the Tigers in 1914. In its history, Major League baseball has had 32 players born in Hawaii, including current players Scott Feldman (Texas) and Tyler Yates (Braves). "It's definitely unique," Victorino said. "When I go home, it's an honor to have young kids look up to me. Growing up, I looked up to those guys and said, 'Some day, I want to be like you.'" For Victorino, that was guys like pitchers Sid Fernandez, Ron Darling and Charlie Hough, and outfielder Benny Agbayani, whose nickname was "Hawaiian Punch." The speedy Victorino has one, too: "The Flyin' Hawaiian."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.