EVERETT — Brennon Kaleiwahea isn’t the type of person that’s going to take a blessing for granted in the sport of baseball.
It’s the quality that’s welcomed Kaleiwahea to new challenges after every setback along his journey.
After being released by the Chicago Cubs organization in spring training, Kaleiwahea, a Lacey native, was signed by the Seattle Mariners in May to add catching depth to the minor-league system.
After short stints with the AZL Mariners, Double-A Arkansas and Triple-A Tacoma, Kaleiwahea has settled in as one of the AquaSox’s three catchers after being sent to Everett on July 16.
Despite joining the team a month after the season started, Kaleiwahea has developed a positive relationship with his coaches and teammates in the clubhouse.
“I have nothing but good things to say about him,” Everett manager Louis Boyd said. “He works his tail off every single day, catching bullpens, picking guys up in between innings, taking batting practice like his life depends on it. … Whenever you see a guy like that, who is doing all the right things, on and off the field by helping teammates out, all you want to see for him is to succeed.”
Kaleiwahea (pronounced kul-LEV-uh-HAY-uh) was born in Tacoma and played for Timberline High School, where he was a three-year letterman in football and a four-year letterman in baseball. After being named a first-team all-league catcher his junior and senior seasons, Kaleiwahea was recruited to play at Washington State, where he hit .219 with four RBI in 30 games as a freshman.
Kaleiwahea was cut from the team after only one season after Donnie Marbut, who was the head coach that recruited him to WSU, was fired and replaced by Marty Lees.
After a junior college stint at Lower Columbia College in Longview, Kaleiwahea was recruited to Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, Tennessee. It was a perfect match since his high school coach at Timberline, Derek Weldon, was named an assistant coach in 2015.
Playing time was scarce as a junior at TTU, but Kaleiwahea blossomed into a starter behind the plate in his final season of college eligibility, hitting .367 with eight homers and 55 RBI. Tennessee Tech was statistically one of the best offensive teams in Division-I baseball that season, leading the nation with a .322 batting average, 135 homers and 639 runs scored.
Despite also boasting a .540 slugging percentage and .465 on-base percentage, Kaleiwahea was passed over through all 40 rounds of the MLB draft, but was signed by the Cubs as an undrafted free agent in 2018.
Kaleiwahea played 18 games with the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs’ Northwest League affiliate, and hit .222 with a double and homer before the Cubs cut ties the following spring.
Thus was the end to his baseball career, or so Kaleiwahea thought.
The catcher was coaching baseball camps back at Tennessee Tech and working for his friend’s gym while pursuing his Master’s degree in business administration and working out, just in case his baseball career was jumpstarted. Independent ball could have been a possibility, but there was some trepidation in pursuing that path for Kaleiwahea.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to get a call. I thought I was maybe done playing,” Kaleiwahea said. “After a month passed, I figured I probably wouldn’t get a shot.”
Then, a familiar team called.
More specifically, it was Mariners catching coordinator Tony Arnerich, who phoned Kaleiwahea to see if he had any interest in joining the Seattle organization. The Mariners needed some catching depth.
Playing for his hometown team was a no-brainer for Kaleiwahea.
“I was really excited because I’m from this area,” Kaleiwahea said. “It was really exciting to call my family and say that I’ve been given a chance to play in the Mariners organization. I love it so far and I love the people. I’m just so excited to be here.”
Playing time hasn’t been plentiful for Kaleiwahea with the AquaSox, with 11th-round pick Carter Bins receiving the bulk of starts behind the plate. In six games, Kaleiwahea, who is colloquially referred to as ‘Bennie’ because of his childhood nickname, ‘Bennie Baseball,’ and aptly uses “Bennie and the Jets” by Elton John as his walk-up song, is hitting just .182 with a .672 on-base-plus slugging with Everett, but hit a double and home run in a key extra-innings victory this past Sunday.
“He’s using his lower half better at the plate,” Boyd said. “(Hitting coach Joe) Thurston is working hard on that with him, rather than just slicing at the ball. Behind the plate, our catching coordinator Tony (Arnerich) said every day just how much better he’s gotten at receiving. He’s just a guy I have pure confidence in throwing into the lineup.”
The success on the field is a bonus, considering the value he’s provided to Everett’s clubhouse.
“Every day (he has) energy,” Boyd said. “He has a really present mindset. It’s easy for him to say, ‘Hey, I only catch every five days, this sucks, I should be playing more.’ Any excuse you want to mix in. But he’s really committed to being where his feet are and being in the moment. And because of his preparation and being present in the moment, on his day to play, he’s able to go out there and help his team win.”