Keston Hiura signs autographs and chats with young fans prior to the Milwaukee Brewers’ Aug. 23 game at Dodger Stadium.

By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS, Rafu Sports Editor

Nothing like balmy SoCal weather and a night in your own bed to lift the spirit.

Keston Hiura was laser-focused during pre-game batting practice Aug. 23, but he seemed to be feeling relatively relaxed.

The cropped hair of his college days is now a mini-mullet, paired with a thin moustache. The smiles came easy between rounds in the batting cage, and when his brief chat with The Rafu was finished, he made sure to visit with some young fans on the other side of the protective netting, signing a few autographs and listening to their stories.

The 26-year-old was at the same Dodger Stadium where he attended countless games as a kid. He was a sensation at Valencia High School and then went on to set records at UC Irvine.

Now in his fourth season with the Milwaukee Brewers, Hiura is hardly a veteran, but has learned first-hand how difficult it is to stay at the major league level once you’ve broken through.

“I’ve been in the playoffs, lost in the playoffs, been up and down, a little bit of everything,” Hiura said. “I’ve seen a lot and done a lot ,and I’m really enjoying being here.”

Immediate and extended family were in attendance for the Brewers’ West Coast swing, including mom Janice, sister Lindsey and dad Kirk.

This year has seen several rides on the escalator between the majors and the minors. His latest call-up was Aug. 3, and Hiura has been making a strong case for a permanent spot as the Brewers are in the thick of the playoff hunt.

Since his return to the bigs this time around, Hiura is batting .250 with nine runs batted and five home runs in August, including two in one game against the Cubs.

Perhaps as a welcome home gift to family and friends, he smacked a homer against the Dodgers in the first game of the series.

Keston Hiura has socked five home runs since being called back up to the majors on Aug. 3.

“I grew up watching many a home run fly out of this park, so to be able to hit one myself here is very special to me,” he said.

The Brewers were impressed with Hiura’s raw power when they signed him in 2018. While his defense hasn’t been the focus of his game, his swing and miss rate has been the key factor in his development.

Since coming back up to the show, he has shown the andjustments – progress – he’d been making in the minors.

“I think it’s just being present in the moment,” he explained. “I’ve simplified a lot of things in my swing, making the most of opportunities when I can, and just having fun out there. I’m really focusing on the little things, making sure I’m not getting too down on myself.”

It’s clear that Hiura’s appreciation of his opportunities as a professional ballplayer has never been stronger.

“This is really fortunate for me. I work hard, but also just going out and having fun. It’s a great group of guys and that makes it enjoyable to come out to the field every single day, being able to compete and have fun, win ball games and do all that.”

The familiar surroundings haven’t hurt. Extended family were in attendance, he had the opportunity to spend the night at home, and spend some quality time with his dog, Maxwell.

Keston Hiura studies the finer details of his at-bats on a screen in the visitors’ dugout.

Because all three games against the Dodgers were night games, he didn’t get to sit down to Mom’s home cooking, but he did manage one of the local culinary rites.

“I got my In-N-Out fix,” he reported.

His father, Kirk, said Keston’s rise to the major leagues has been nothing short of remarkable.

“None of us have any experience beyond high school sports. He was the first to accomplish that, whether earning a college scholarship for athletics, making it into the minors and then the majors,” Kirk explained. “Just to listen to him describe how he’s being treated, it’s mind-boggling, wonderful.”

As Hiura has progressed through the ascending levels of baseball, one feature has remained a formidable challenge for those covering his career: how’s that name pronounced?

“I don’t even pronounce it correctly,” Kirk said with a hearty laugh. “When Keston first went to Irvine, the person in charge of social media – who was Japanese – said Keston pronounced it as ‘HIGH-yura.’”

The most common iteration among sportscasters these days seems to a simplification that eliminates the “u” – “Hear-ra.”

Kirk joked that he usually only heard the native pronunciation in Japanese school.

For the record, it’s originally Hee-oo-ra, with the slight Japanese tongue flick on “ra.”

The Hiura cheering section for the Aug. 23 game included Grandma, a collection of aunts and uncles, sister Lindsey and mom Janice, who still recalls the wee Keston’s first days on a diamond.

“It’s amazing to remember him playing tee-ball and here we are, watching him in the majors,” she said. “The years went by so fast.”

Photos by MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS / Rafu Shimpo

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.