Q&A with Mana Lau Kong and his father Kai Lau Kong
Hawai‘i’s victory against South Korea in the 2018 Little League World Series began with a first inning home run by 6th grader Mana Lau Kong of Hawai‘i Kai. The team went on to score another two runs to win the championship 3-0.
We caught up with Mana Lau Kong, 12, and his father Kai to describe the the experience. Mana has been playing Little League for two years.
MANA LAU KONG
KWO: What drew you to baseball over other sports?
Mana Lau Kong: Well, I started playing baseball when I was three-years-old. I would go to my cousins’ baseball games and I always would follow them around and try to play baseball.
What does it take for a Little League team to make it to the World Series? For example, how many teams to you have to beat to become the champions?
MLK: It takes a lot of hard work because we had practices everyday, even on the weekends, for four hours. My coaches told us that we would need to be able to hit someone throwing 75 mph or more to win, so they would have the pitching machine cranked up everyday. At first nobody could hit but we eventually got it. The team also had high school and college players pitch to us at live batting practice every week.
A lot of time was also spent on fielding. That’s why we hardly made any errors in the games. We had to beat the best teams in Hawai‘i, the best teams in the West region, the best in the United States and then the world to be champions. In Williamsport, Penn., they told us that there are thousands of teams that play Little League.
KWO: What was the highlight of the series for you?
MLK: The highlight of the series for me was hitting the first pitch of the game for a home run because it set the momentum on our side. We all knew that pitcher was going to be tough but if you do something like that then he’s going to get all rattled up. My team had the advantage after that.
KWO: What was the hardest part?
MLK: The hardest part I would say was probably the practices because we had to face a lot of tough live pitching. The pitchers that helped us practice were some big dudes. But it was all worth it because it all paid off. Since we kept seeing fast pitchers in practice everyday, it made it easy to hit in the tournaments. I wasn’t freaked out when we faced Georgia in the first game of the world series and the lefty was throwing 75 mph.
KWO: You set your team off to a winning start in the championships. What did it feel like to hit that home run?
MLK: It felt awesome to know that I gave my team the lead. The stands and the outfield hills were packed. It was so loud. This was the biggest game that I played in my whole life. I knew everybody would be watching back at home. It all happened so fast. With Olu [Ka‘olu Holt] pitching, I knew we had a chance if we could score against South Korea’s pitcher.
KWO: How are you rewarded for winning the World Series?
MLK: Everyone on the team is like a movie star now. We had a parade for us, been on the news and radio stations, had dinner parties at all kinds of places. We’ve been honored at a UH football game at halftime and even got to run onto the field with the team. Everybody asks us to take pictures and for our autographs.
KWO: What are your future baseball plans?
MLK: I will be traveling to play baseball in Las Vegas, California, Arizona and Florida this year on national select teams. This past year I was working on making the 12U USA national team. I made it to the final 112 players but I was not able to move on further since it conflicted with Little League’s regionals.
KAI LAU KONG
KWO: How would you describe Mana as a player, and as a person?
KLK: He is self-motivated and is always working on his game. Throughout the years he has traveled all over the United States playing baseball (Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Arizona, Las Vegas and California).
He’s more of the quiet type that leads by example. I could not be more proud of his accomplishments. Hard work definitely paid off for him. He‘s definitely a team guy. He also played in the Pony World Series in Los Alamitos, Calif. this summer. It broke his heart that he had to leave his teammates and join his little league team in San Bernadino for regionals. He would definitely do it all if he could.
KWO: How hard is it to get a little league team ready to qualify for the world series? How old are most of the kids when they start playing?
KLK: It definitely takes a lot of time. Although the little leauge team has only been together since June, all of the players have been playing baseball for years. The players came together from three different teams. The only way for this to happen was for everyone to come together as one.
KWO: What kind of commitment is it for kids this age to compete at this level?
KLK: To compete at this level takes a lot of time and energy. For Mana, it’s been even more challenging as he is always the youngest on the team (May 1st cutoff). On the little league team he’s the only 6th grader, a lot of the other players are in the 8th grade.
You need to be willing to put in the time. If not the ones that do will find the success you seek. For Mana it started from three-years-old. It’s been a long journey for him. Wiith hard work he has been on the state winning team four out of the past five years. Most kids only dream about it. For these 14 kids, they will definitely be remembered for a long time. Hopefully this is just the beginning for them as most of them will start their high school careers.
KWO: Was there a moment when you were most proud of the team?
KLK: I am most proud of these young boys for achieving the highest at a very young age. In life nothing is given and through hard work and determination you are now looked upon as 2018 LLWS world champs.