Sorry, I know it's a day late but here's part three of four Royals interviews leading us up to Spring Training '09. I caught up with Kila Ka'aihue, A.K.A. "Hawaiian Punch", to talk about his amazing ride to the big leagues in '08 and what may come of the logjam at first base in Kansas City. Despite being a Nebraska Cornhusker, Kila is a pretty cool customer, I'd like to note.
Q: What has been the most shocking thing about being a Kansas City Royal?
KA'AIHUE: "One of the things that some of the guys have explained to me is that we have a lot of fans in the Midwest region. I didn't realize we had this many fans. I'm new to the team. It's been really fun, its been exciting (meeting the fans)."
Q: You have some experience in the big leagues now. What are you expecting to see out of the league this year?
KA'AIHUE: "You know, I'm not sure? I'm just going to Spring Training and I'm gonna to try to win the job (at first base). At least battle for it and see what happens. It's crowded over there (at first), and I'm just hoping for the best."
Q: There's a lot of young talent still on this team. Just the moves you guys have made this offseason has got to excite you guys - first of all the competition against each other, and then to just see what this lineup could possibly do?
KA'AIHUE: "I think Dayton is doing it the right way. He's keeping a lot of the guys together that he's drafted, and we have all played together. We were on teams together (in the minors) at some point and we are still together ( in the majors). He's brought some guys in where he felt that there were some holes. Hopefully it just keeps getting better. It seems like we have been. September was just awesome in whatever we did there. We're just hoping for the best this year."
Q: You obviously have a baseball background in your family. Talk about what that was like last year getting called up to the big leagues and the support you got from your family.
KA'AIHUE: "You know, it was real exciting. My dad played (in the minors) for 11 years and never got his chance. He was there and they all saw my first hit, my first home run, they saw me play the field. I mean, it was just a family thing. It was great."
Q: Does what Tampa Bay did last year give you guys some hope that you can get it turned around too?
KA'AIHUE: "Hopefully! Nobody expected that out of Tampa Bay, and nobody expects a whole lot out of us. I'd rather be in that situation than to be in a situation where New York feels like they have to win every single day or if they don't it's a failure. It's been our role, we've just been that team. We've been at the bottom of the division, we've been at the bottom of the league. It's fun. I mean, we get to go out there and do what we did in September and spoil a lot of teams chances to be in the playoffs. We just get to have fun. We get to go out there and do what we get to do.
We're hoping for the best. What Tampa Bay did would be great for us, but that's not our goal. We're not out there trying to be Tampa Bay. We just want to win our division first, get into the playoffs, have a chance to play in October. Then we can talk about what Tampa Bay did. Right now we're just trying to take it game by game and hopefully we (succeed)."
Q: Zack mentioned he felt it was close enough that any team could win, or lose, the division this year. Do you see that as well with how tough this division could be?
KA'AIHUE: "I think the major leagues is just like that from top to bottom. I mean, everybody in the major leagues is good. Any starting pitcher can go out there and beat any lineup one through nine. It's a day-to-day game. The hardest part about baseball is just the daily grind. You've got to keep yourself ready to play every day. Yeah, we could be first, we could be last again, we could be second or third. Nobody knows.
That's why we go out there and play. We're hoping that we win the division. That's our first goal. We're just trying to get to the playoffs and we'll take it from there.
Q: Talk about the whirlwind season you had last year. Double-A you tear it up. Triple-A, a lot of players seem to suffer a slow down when they're called up but you didn't, and then when you get to the big leagues and kept hitting. Talk about what that was like.
KA'AIHUE: "It's been a long road. I mean, it's taken me six years to do what I did. I wish I'd have gotten off to a better start in my career. I wasn't that fortunate, but I think that helped me eventually. When I did get my chance to go to triple-A I was ready for it. I got my chance to go to the big leagues and I was ready for it then too.
It's taken me a little bit longer, but there are guys that have taken a little bit longer too. Aaron Guiel, I think, played 10 years in the minors before he got his chance with us and he never looked back. I'm very fortunate. I've had my chance, I've been blessed. I'm on the roster now. I've got my opportunity. I'm just a phone call away. I literally am. So I'm just hoping for the best. Last year was incredible. I did what I needed to do to put myself in this situation, and I'm hoping that I continue to do that."