BOULDER — It’s already been the most eventful year of Ryan Kokora’s young baseball life and it’s about to get a little more interesting.
Coming off an outstanding spring season with the Fairview High School Knights, the recently-graduated pitcher was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 35th round of the Major League Baseball draft in early June. But by the end of the month, the former Knights ace will be playing baseball in Japan.
“When I got the call, I was super excited,” Kokora said. “It’s an amazing opportunity to go to a different country and play baseball.”
Headed to play at Hawaii Pacific University next year, Kokora will spend the month of July with the collegiate summer program Hawaii Island Movers. He will play 10 games at the University of Hawaii starting June 24 and then fly to Tokyo to play other collegiate-level teams.
Kokora is also playing with the Fairview summer team Old School Dirtbags this summer. For the 18-year-old pitcher with a lot on his plate, a trip to Japan to could be just what he needs to clear his head and take his game to the next level.
“I’m hoping to learn a bunch of new stuff. Playing with a bunch of older guys will be a big change,” Kokora said. “The Japanese style is different with a lot of slap-hitters so I’m expecting to learn a bunch of new stuff.”
Kokora went 9-0 with a 1.38 earned-run average in 45 2/3 innings his senior year at Fairview. He made some big jumps from last year to this year and even during the spring, which impressed the Braves enough to use a draft pick on the Boulder native. Fairview head coach Rick Harig said Kokora, who throws a split change-up, curveball and slider, was clocked in the mid-80s early in the spring, reached the high-80s by the end of the season and hit 90 during the state tournament.
As the Braves track his progress and measure what offer they may make the young hurler, Kokora still has a difficult decision to make before mid-July. But he says he’s leaning towards his original plan of playing at Hawaii Pacific.
“The plan right now is to go to school in the fall and keep progressing,” Kokora said. “Unless I make a big velocity jump, that will be the plan. As of right now, I think I could benefit from a couple years to mature and get better.”
Harig, who has never had a player travel to play in Japan, is excited for his recently-graduated player. Barring an opportunity for extended playing time with the Hawaii-based college summer team, Kokora should also be back stateside by late July to finish the summer season with the Dirtbags.
“I think they play good baseball over there in Japan so he’ll learn a lot,” Harig said. “I think he’ll report back to us so we’ll have a better idea for how they do things over there. It should be a good experience abroad and a unique opportunity for him to learn a new culture.”
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