The talk around town with the Arizona baseball team this year in regards to arguably the nation’s best offense is all about the freshman duo of Jacob Berry and Daniel Susac, and it is for good reason. They are both absolutely raking and have played a pivotal role in this year’s team that figures to make a deep run. However, one player who continues to stay under the radar through a very productive season is second baseman Kobe Kato.
The sophomore out of Hawaii had to patiently wait his turn for a role to open up as a full-time starter, and he is embracing the opportunity that arose for him this season.
“It’s been surreal,” Kato said. “I can’t believe that it took the steps that I took to get here. It was really tough, but now that it is actually happening, I feel like I can play freely. I can kind of have fun playing with everyone on the field and being in the dugout laughing and having a good time. Practice is great. Just knowing now that a lot of people are coming to me for assistance in a way where I was in their shoes, so the roles have kind of flipped, but it’s still just being a great teammate.”
One of the common themes with this specific Arizona quad is selflessness and playing for others, and Kato displays that perfectly having waited for his turn to shine in the program.
“You being in the starting lineup doesn’t make you better than someone else on the team,” Kato said. "It is a collective agreement that everyone here has worked towards the same goal, and I’m going to do my best to help people that aren’t in the lineup and also are in the lineup, so we can all continue to get better. I’ll also take feedback from other people as well just so I can continue to keep working.”
One of the other themes that has been evident from watching this team play all season is the idea of having fun and playing together. Kato believes that this idea of having fun when you are playing can help lead to great success, as the Wildcats have had all season and most notably as of late, as they currently boast a 10-game winning streak, the second time this season they have carried a winning streak this long.
“When the energy is high, the dugout is engaged, and people on the field are engaged. It just brings out a lot more energy and a lot more excitement within the team,” Kato said. “Everyone that has fun playing the game is going to have a better chance of playing well. It is hard to be in a bad mood when your team is having fun. And we’re all working hard, so having fun, having good energy is a really big thing for us, especially in the dugout providing energy for our pitchers and our hitters because [when the] energy is down, the game kind of drags along, and that is when you kind of lose your edge. When it is upbeat, up-tempo and everyone is backing each other, you just know that you have your whole team behind you.”
It is safe to say that Kato is having fun this season, as he currently sits No. 4 in the conference in hitting (.385) and No. 2 in the conference in the walks drawn (32), which combines to lead to him currently placing No. 3 in the conference in runs scored (41), only behind fellow teammates Branden Boissiere and Donta' Williams.
If we look closer at the Wildcats' current 10-game hitting streak, Kato has recorded at least one hit in each of those 10 games with seven multiple-hit games and an overall batting average of .538 in that span. He has been seeing the ball extremely well as of late and looks to continue this momentum into a huge series this weekend against Stanford who sits right behind the Wildcats in the standings at No. 2 in the conference.
“I don’t think there is anybody that’s been as big a part of our team’s success this year as [Kato]," head coach Jay Johnson said. “He takes professional at-bats. He’s gotten a lot stronger in his time here, great runner and really hits mistakes well. He battles with two strikes, manages the zone, and he’s a very classic Arizona hitter. I think he’s a really balanced attack, as I would call it, type of hitter with speed, some power, solid hitting skills and really understands himself and understands what the team is looking for out of his at-bats. [He’s] probably as good as anyone on our team and has been a huge part of our success.”
Despite being one of the more consistent hitters in this lineup all season but not being talked about as much as some of his teammates, Kato just wants to do whatever it takes to help the team win ball games.
“I just feel like any way I can contribute to help move the offense is what my goal is,” Kato said. “I’m not out there to try to chase hits or chase numbers. I’m out there to help the team win and help the team put up runs because at the end of the day, it’s the whole team’s effort to get a win in the column.”
Kato will look to continue his recent hot streak into a crucial road series this weekend for the Wildcats against the Cardinal. This is a team that Arizona isn’t super familiar with having not played them in last year’s shortened season, but Johnson compared the blend of youth and veterans that they have in their dugout to what Arizona fans see with this Wildcats team this year.
“My initial look at them [is] they have power, like they can hit some extra-base hits,” Johnson said. “[They have] good athletes. They have a couple old players like us. Tim Tawa has played a lot since he’s been on campus. Christian Robinson has played a lot since he’s been on campus. They have had a couple talented recruiting classes that they’ve brought in. Brendan Beck has had a good career at Stanford, so I think they’re a blended team kind of like us, with young talent and really good veteran players.”
Johnson believes the team is really excited to compete on the road this weekend.
“It is going to be great,” Johnson said. “ I mean relative to anything or anybody else we’ve done, I haven’t really thought much about that. I know our players are excited.”
One noteworthy stat about Stanford’s team this year is that they lead the conference in home runs despite playing fewer games than most teams due to COVID-19 cancellations, so the Wildcat pitchers this weekend will have to ensure they control the counts and keep the ball down in the zone against the hitters they will be facing.
This three game-series kicks off on Friday, May 7 with the first pitch scheduled for 6:05 p.m. MST.
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