03/14/07 2:51 PM ET
Speedy Victorino took slow path
Young outfielder has impressed teammates with poise
By Ken Mandel / MLB.com
"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.