By Luke O’Roark | Post Register
Amalani Fukofuka was a bit earnest coming out of the Chukars’ bullpen Saturday.
He, along with the rest of the team, had just taken official team portraits during media day. They had an exhibition game that night against the Idaho Falls Bandits — an American Legion Baseball team of local high schoolers. Melaleuca Field was supposed to be lax.
But Fukofuka, the former Chukars MVP is back — focused and ready to be a leader in his second stint in Idaho Falls.
“I remember a lot,” Fukofuka said. “(2015) was one of my favorite years I played. I love the people. I love the area. I’m excited to play.”
Fukofuka returns to Idaho Falls in search of the confidence that made him a fan favorite two seasons ago with the Chukars. He’s serious about returning to top form.
During his first go-around at Melaleuca, Fukofuka tallied 95 hits, 38 RBIs and three home runs in 280 plate appearances. He batted .339 in 67 games.
But he struggled last summer with the Lexington Legends, the next stop in the Kansas City Royals’ minor league system. His batting average dipped to .200 in 110 games with the Legends. He struck out 136 times. He had just 110 total bases in 2016, a drop from his 140 total bases a year prior with the Chukars (he also did it in 43 less games).
“I was striking out a lot in Lexington,” Fukofuka said. “So, I’m making a few adjustments to my swing. Here’s the place to do it, adjust, so I can get back up there.”
Chukars’ manager Justin Gemoll said Fukofuka started to put more pressure on himself during his tenure with the Legends and got “out of his game plan”.
“He’s got all the tools,” Gemoll said. “Just getting back to trusting himself and relaxing a little bit.”
A return to Melaleuca could help the 21-year-old. Change can be a good thing. And Fukofuka has the right attitude and characteristics to turn it around, Gemoll said.
“He’s very responsible and he does what he needs to do,” Gemoll said. “Professional athletes, a lot of the dedication, confidence, is behind closed doors and fans don’t always see that. But it’s how you take care of yourself off the field, how hard you workout in the gym, what you’re eating.
(Fukofuka) checks all those boxes.”
Idaho Falls provides a second-chance for Fukofuka. For others, it provides a new beginning.
Jake Wakamatsu, son of Royals’ bench coach Don, broke his right hand a year ago. He only played three games for the Royals’ Arizona League team.
Wakamatsu has had a journey of his own: he was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays out of high school in the 48th round. He decided to attend Arizona State. But after recruiting scandals hovered around ASU in 2011-2012, he transferred to Arizona Christian University. Then, he broke his throwing hand.
He said he just wants to see the field again after a year hiatus. Now healthy, Wakamatsu has a chance to build up his repertoire and advance up through the Royals’ minor system.
“Anytime I get on the field, just play my hardest,” Wakamatsu said. “And just see how it goes. Try to keep moving up.”
Here’s a portion of outfielder Amalani Fukofuka today: pic.twitter.com/QemsfDr2NO
— Luke O’Roark (@LukeOroark) June 17, 2017