Skip to content

Big heart drives Hawaiian Jayhawk Kodey Shojinaga

'Being from Hawaii, you have a chip on your shoulder. I carry that myself, and it’s helped me a lot'

7 min read
KU sophomore Kodey Shojinaga has been one of the Jayhawks' top players and one of the Big 12's top hitters during the first two seasons of the Dan Fitzgerald era thus far. [Chance Parker photos]

Luaus and leis. Chill afternoons on hot beaches. Such a laid-back vibe. Everyone on vacation, every day.

Kodey Shojinaga knows that’s what many fellow Americans think when they daydream about Hawaii, the 50th and most beautiful state.

He also knows daydreams don’t always line up perfectly with reality.

“I don’t think it’s fully the paradise that everyone thinks it is, but it kind of is,” Shojinaga said. “But the cost of living is super expensive. You have to work really hard to get what you want. You can’t sit back and enjoy the vacation life.”

And if you want to become a Division I college baseball player, you must work tirelessly and still might not get what you want because coaches understandably are leery about reserving valuable roster spots for players they haven’t seen play in person.

“I feel like a lot of people don’t want to make the trip out there to watch people play,” Shojiinga said. “There are a lot of talented kids on the island who have a really good work ethic. Being from Hawaii, you have a chip on your shoulder. I carry that myself, and it’s helped me a lot.”

Shojinaga said he doesn’t consider distance the only factor that keeps college recruiters looking Hawaii’s way as much as he believes they should.

Multiple websites that track the average height of people by state all agree that Hawaii ranks 50th.

“One thing is we’re undersized, so people think we won’t make it because of that,” he said. “But we play with a lot of heart, and that plays a big role in what makes us good.”

Shojinaga showed more than heart in playing his way to 2023 Big 12 co-freshman of the year, sharing the award with Oklahoma left fielder Nolan Schubart.

Heart alone can’t enable a high school catcher to make such a swift and smooth transition to second base.

Heart alone can’t bat .378 for the season and a mind-blowing .418 in 24 Big 12 games.

Nobody could have seen that coming from a player who didn’t receive any Division I scholarship offers and came to Kansas as a walk-on.

A link to former KU coach Ritch Price, who recruited several players from Hawaii to Kansas, Shojinaga has his former travel baseball coach to thank for being Price’s final recruit from the island.

Justin Protacio, a shortstop from Hawaii, last played baseball for Kansas in 2015, yet there is no disputing he was one of the Jayhawks’ most valuable players in 2023.

After all, without Protacio going to bat for Shojinaga with Price and the first of his Hawaiian recruits, former left-handed pitcher and director of baseball operations Wally Marciel, someone else would have led the team in hitting last season.

Protacio saw in Shojinaga what no Division I college baseball coach saw, not even the one whose campus borders the field where both Shojinaga and Protacio played high school baseball, the University of Hawaii.

“Kodey, that’s my guy,” Protacio said by phone from Hawaii, where he flies helicopters for the Army National Guard.

Shojinaga and Protacio played for legendary Mid-Pacific Institute coach Dunn Muramaru, winner of five state titles in 37 years at the school.

Protacio, who coached Shojinaga in travel baseball, was one of four Hawaiians (Ka’iana Eldredge, Robert Kahana, Michael Sutter) on the 2014 KU team, the school’s last to make it to an NCAA regional. Protacio said he gets together regularly with Eldredge and Sutter to watch KU basketball games on TV and watches streamed Jayhawks baseball games religiously.

So, Protacio’s fondness for both Shojinaga and KU gave him credibility with the staff because if he didn’t think the marriage would be good for both parties, why would he recommend it?

“I had a special bond to him just because we went to the same high school,” Protacio said. “That kicked it off. And right away, I liked his swagger, his confidence, the way he carries himself on the field, his competitiveness. The Tucker Tharps, the Frank Duncans, the Wes Benjamins (former KU players), they all had that competitive gene that can’t really be taught. Kodey has that. I knew he could play in the Big 12. Every level he played, he could always hit.”

Protacio added, “I had to put my word on the line and I told Skip (Price) and Wally, ‘You guys have to get this guy.’”

Price took his former player’s word for it and went to see him play in a Perfect Game tournament in Jupiter, Florida.

“He was catching and he played great,” Protacio said.

So Price offered him a roster spot but never coached him. Dan Fitzgerald, now in his second year at KU, didn’t keep all the players he inherited, but had a roster spot for Shojinaga and the freshman played so well that he earned some scholarship money for his second season. He has been splitting time between second base and first base this season and appeared in one game at catcher.

Because he will be 21 before the draft, Shojinaga will be eligible for it as a sophomore. Perfect Game ranks him as the No. 17 Big 12 prospect in the 2024 draft.

“I try not to worry about the draft too much,’” Shojinaga said. “If I play well, everything will take care of itself, so I just focus on taking care of my business.”

Jayhawks take 2 from TCU

Shojinaga and the Jayhawks (9-5 overall, 2-1 Big 12) picked up a pair of wins over No. 3 TCU in the Big 12 opener at Hoglund Ballpark over the weekend, winning Game 1 of the series, 3-1, and Game 2, 8-4, before falling in Sunday's finale.

The two opening wins moved the Jayhawks' winning streak to 6 in a row before it was snapped on Sunday.

Next up, KU will take on Missouri at 6 p.m. on Tuesday night in Lawrence before hitting the road for another Big 12 series at conference newcomer Cincinnati over the weekend.

Check out the weekend's box scores below for a look at how the Jayhawks got off to such a hot start in conference play.

— For tickets to all KU athletic events, visit

Shojinaga’s high school coach, who has sent several players to the minor leagues and one to the majors (Isiah Kiner-Falefa, a Gold Glove third baseman now with the Toronto Blue Jays) is confident Shojinaga will be drafted, and shared why he thinks that.

“I think his bat-to-ball skills and then his versatility,” Muramaru said by phone from Hawaii on a rainy morning while pumping water from the field to get it ready for that afternoon’s JV game. “You can put him at any position and he won’t stink up the joint.”

Muramaru and Protacio both said they think Shojinaga will be a catcher in professional baseball.

“When they got rid of the shift, the infielders have to be more athletic,” Muramaru said. “You can’t just put Justin Turner at second base anymore.”

If Shojinaga’s second season at KU follows the path of his first, his best hitting days are ahead of him now that the Big 12 season has arrived.

Over the weekend, during the Jayhawks' series win over 3rd-ranked TCU in Lawrence, the player they call "Shoj" provided a glimpse of what that might look like, hitting .500 for the weekend with 6 hits in 12 at-bats including three doubles and two RBIs.

Shojinaga is proud of his current school’s connection to his home state and doesn’t want to be remembered as the last of a long string of Hawaiian Jayhawks, which started when Marciel came to KU in 2007.

“I’m not sure if it will continue with the new coaching staff,” Shojinaga said. “I hope it will.”

More than just the time-consuming travel keeps Hawaii from being recruited heavily, Muramaru said.

“For one thing, we don’t see the velo here,” Muramaru said. “Only lately we see guys throw fairly decent. When a guy throws 90 here, that’s something you hear about. In Texas, that’s commonplace, with the players being bigger, faster, stronger. We never have people here go on to be successful in basketball. We’re just not big enough.”

At 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, Shojinaga is not big, but he’s big enough to hit Big 12 pitching, thanks to his big heart and big talent. And he's big enough to make people believe he’ll get a shot to prove himself while playing for pay.

Game 1 vs. TCU

Game 2 vs. TCU

Game 3 vs. TCU