Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Jessica Iwata Steps Into Justin's World

In the entire history of this website, I believe I've only had cause to feature this young lady's team one time, and that was actually an interview with another member of her own graduating class! I'm very honored to have the opportunity to do so once again.

Today, we feature an interview with former University of Hawaii slugging shortstop Jessica Iwata.

Jessica was one of the finest players in Rainbow Wahine history when she graduated following the 2013 season. To put her career in a perspective for you, her final season's 0.319 batting average; eight home runs; and .530 slugging percentage were all career LOWS.

It's not often you find a middle infielder with some pop in her bat, but with fifty-five career home runs to her name, Jessica was an exception to the rule; a dangerous player every time she stepped to the plate. She also spent time as a member of Team USA a few years ago.

In our 2013 NPF "Mock Draft", the Pride "selected" Jessica, and it seemed like there would be a solid chance she might continue her career by being selected in the real thing. She was not, however, and her playing career came to an end... for now. As you'll see below, the end of one chapter doesn't always close the book. ;)

You can find Jessica on Facebook here, and follow her on Twitter @_jwats.

Justin's World (JW): How did you get started playing softball?
Jessica Iwata (JI): To start, I have kind of a funny story. In 2009, when preparing my graduation slide show, my mother found a tape of my pre-school graduation where I told my teacher I wanted to be a baseball player. My teacher asked my classmates the same question, and they would say things such as doctor, policeman etc. What made this story so unique was that I graduated pre-school when I was 4 years old, before I picked up any type of ball.

I grew up playing baseball from a young age (5 years old), and that was something that I had great passion for. I loved playing with the boys (often being the only girl), and it forced me to be more competitive as an athlete. I am also the middle of two brothers, so I always had someone to practice/ play catch with. Growing up there wasn't enough girls to make a team/ league for girls to play softball, so girls would play baseball. I played many other sports (volleyball, bowling, track, soccer, basketball), but as I got older I realized that softball could be my ticket into college. I played baseball up until my freshman year of high school, where I made the transition into softball. It wasn't a difficult one for me because the concepts were basically the same; I was often told that I had a baseball swing and that it wouldn't get me far in softball. Looking back I'd say, that didn't seem to be a problem. During my junior and senior year of high school I traveled back and forth from Kauai to Oahu every weekend to play for a travel ball team (Guava Jam). I would go straight to the airport on Friday after school to practice that night, play weekend tournaments, and return home on the first flight Monday morning for school. I'll admit that I hated doing that during that time because I wanted to hang out with my friends on the weekends, but I am glad that my dad pushed me to be the best I could. My parents made many sacrifices to allow me the best opportunity I could to be a better ball player, and I have them to thank for the person I am today. In one of the weekend tournaments that I played in on Oahu, Coach Bob Coolen was there to seek out some local talent. Luckily he walked up to our field right as I hit a home-run, and that’s where my University of Hawaii career started.

JW: What would you say is the proudest or happiest moment of your career?
JI: What made me most proud was representing Hawaii, given the opportunity to play the game that I loved all while furthering my education. What made me the happiest was being close enough for my family and friends to watch and enjoy the game as much as I did. I feel blessed of course to have gotten all the honors and awards throughout my career, but to me that was just a bonus I just loved to play the game.

JW: Why did you choose Hawaii?

JI: Growing up in Hawaii especially in the outer island (Kauai), it is really difficult to get exposure. I didn't know much about collegiate softball (who was the good teams, what were good schools) while I was going through the process of filling out college applications, scholarships etc. Hawaii was the only D1 school to offer me to play. I know Hawaii is not necessarily a "big" school and were not known for doing big things in athletics, but I am more than proud to say that I played for Hawaii. I love playing for my family and my home, it gives me great appreciation for the life I live. The family atmosphere and the fans here in Hawaii are like no other, not many get to say that they had the opportunity to play and represent an entire state and that’s something that UH athletes take great pride in.

JW:  If given the opportunity to go back and change or relive one moment from your career, when would it be and why?
JI: Definitely going to the World Series. Just that whole year in general was one of the best years that I had playing on a team. Our month long road trip to get us to the World Series, not having to worry about school, and the amount of time we spent together as a team was so much fun. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and the chemistry that we had as a team was one that I will remember for a long time.

JW: Was playing ball past-college something you considered or wanted to do?
JI: Yes, playing ball past college has always been a dream of mine. After having the opportunity to play for the USA futures National team after my freshman year I realized that I had a really good chance making that dream a reality.

JW: With your collegiate career done, what are your plans to be involved with the game of softball in the future?
JI: Directly after season last year, I got Labrum (shoulder) surgery to fix a labrum tear in my throwing arm that had been bothering me since the ending of my junior year at UH. I made the decision to play my senior year with the injury rather than take a red shirt, solely for the purpose of finishing with the girls (seniors) that I started my journey at UH with. I have been rehabbing for a few months now, and plan to be ready to play again by April if a team is willing to pick me up. It has always been my dream to play overseas, but as of right now I'd be honored to be playing anywhere that is willing to give me the opportunity. [Editor’s Note: That reflects this past April.]

JW: Who is your hero, and how does that person's influence affect your on-field play?
JI: I guess my parents would be my heroes, I never really had an athlete that I looked up to growing up. My parents are basically the people who made me who I am today and I wouldn't be where I am if it wasn't for their support, sacrifices, guidance and love. My dad has always been the one to push me to be better, and my mom has always been there to pick me up when I fell. Therefore, in return I would very hard in school and in softball so that I would make them proud.

JW: You've received a ton of awards & honors through your career; I'm sure your trophy case is full!
What would you say is your favorite or the most meaningful one that you've received?
JI: I guess it would be my Player of the Year awards. My freshman one would be my most favorite, just because I wasn't really expecting to have played such a big role on the team that year. That would also be the most meaningful because that was the year that we really put Hawaii Softball on the map, and proved to people that we could compete at the highest level.

JW:  You were a member of the 2010 USA Futures team; what was it like to put on the red, white, and blue and represent your country?
JI: It was a really good experience, especially for an athlete who grew up in Hawaii. I was honored have gotten the opportunity to represent my country doing something that I loved. I admit that I was young, a little nervous and afraid to be so far from home but I am glad that I got to go. That was actually the first time that I had ever traveled completely alone and it was a bit of a growing experience for me as well.

JW: Say you were stranded on a deserted island (Robinson Crusoe-style) and could take three items with you. Boats and phones are off-limits. What would you take?
JI: A fishing pole, a tent, and a lighter.

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