WAILUKU - It was simple circumstance, but Branden Kaupe held his first news conference as a baseball draftee on Tuesday at Maehara Stadium.
Standing with one reporter near the stands where his parents and little sister watched him play for Baldwin High School, a small crowd gathered, including his family, passers-by, Parks and Recreation officials, Na Koa Ikaika Maui employees and teammates of his sister's state-championship Little League team.
As his mother, Joy, filmed the interview, the enormity of the moment seemed to flow over the 18-year-old switch-hitting middle infielder, who was selected a few hours earlier by the New York Mets in the fourth round of the Major League Baseball draft, 140th overall.
Branden Kaupe batted .511 with two home runs and 18 RBIs in 18 games for Baldwin High School in 2012, and did not strike out.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
‘One of the scouts told me the reason I stand out is because I’m not the biggest guy, the reason I stand out is because I’m small.’
– Branden Kaupe
‘I think he can play anywhere on the infield. He certainly has the arm to play on the left side of the infield.’
– Mets amateur scouting director Thomas Tanous
"I was called, like, two picks before the Mets picked me," Kaupe said. "We were kind of like on the edge of our seats, waiting and hoping that my name was going to be called and when they did call it, we were just all happy."
Kaupe is 5-foot-6, but stands as the second-highest MLB draft pick ever from Maui County, behind only Oakland Athletics catcher Kurt Suzuki, a Baldwin graduate who went in the second round (67th over-all) out of Cal State Fullerton in 2004.
"Just being part of the names, being part of the guys who came out of Hawaii is pretty special," Kaupe said. "I honestly thought I was going to go later. One of the scouts told me the reason I stand out is because I'm not the biggest guy, the reason I stand out is because I'm small."
Kaupe was not among the seven players listed as draft candidates from Hawaii on MLB.com, nor was he among Baseball America magazine's top 500 prospects.
"I didn't pay attention to that stuff," Kaupe said. "I just waited and prayed to God, pretty much. A lot of scouts told me personally that they wanted to keep me under wraps."
Kaupe did make a large impression in October when he had the third-fastest 60-yard dash time - 6.46 seconds - at the the Arizona Senior Fall Classic. He said the Mets, Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles showed the most interest, but admitted he was shocked to go in the fourth round after scouts told him he was in the sixth-to-eighth-round range.
"I think we definitely had an advantage with our area supervisor and supervisor having seen him in Arizona," Thomas Tanous, the Mets' amateur scouting director, said in a conference call Tuesday. "Doug Thurman (the Mets' West scouting supervisor) did a great job of identifying the player."
The Arizona trip cost Kaupe a Maui Interscholastic League football game, but clearly paid dividends on the diamond. In 18 games this season, Kaupe hit .511 with two home runs, three triples, five doubles, 16 stolen bases and 21 RBIs. He did not strike out in 45 at-bats.
"I like everything. His speed stands out," Tanous said. "He actually hit an inside-the-park home run when I saw him."
The Mets' website lists Kaupe as a shortstop, but he thinks second base will be his position in the long run.
"I think he can play anywhere on the infield. He certainly has the arm to play on the left side of the infield," Tanous said.
Kaupe has a scholarship waiting for him at Central Arizona Junior College, but said he will sign with the Mets when a team representative comes to Maui next week. Kaupe had planned to pass up school if drafted in the sixth round or better.
"It was pretty much a no-brainer after I got picked, this is pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime thing," he said.
Paul DePodesta, the Mets' vice president for player development and amateur scouting, said Kaupe, who turned 18 in April, is most likely headed to Kingston, Tenn., to begin his professional career in the Appalachian League.
"He'll be one of our short-season rookie-ball guys," DePodesta said. "Most of our high school guys will be going to Kingston, but we'll see how it goes."
The call from the Mets came at about 7:30 a.m. HST. Kaupe's first call after that was to his older brother Bulla, 23, a former Baldwin football standout who lives in California.
"I kept waking up, all night," Kaupe said. "I was wondering where I was going to go. I thought the Orioles were going to take me, but then the Mets came up."
An hour or so after the call, the family made a trip to Champs Sports and bought two Mets caps.
"Everything is happening too quick, I am still amazed at how everything is happening," Kaupe said.
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org