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Major League Monday: Chucks Alum Ka’ai Tom Bounces Back With Pirates

It’s been a whirlwind 2021 for former Wisconsin Woodchuck Ka’ai Tom throughout this still-young season. But if anyone can make it through the ups and downs of big league baseball, Tom is the poster child.

Overlooked and overshadowed by his high school’s football factory, the native Hawaiian and Saint Louis High School teammate of future NFL quarterback Marcus Mariota on the gridiron has refused to be denied by setbacks.

A journey through Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, the University of Kentucky and countless minor league towns culminated with a .310 spring training batting average for the Oakland Athletics and an opening day roster spot this April.

“I’m so excited. This is definitely like a huge hump that I finally got past,” Tom told KHON-TV in Hawaii ahead of his MLB debut. “Now it’s what am I going to do to continue to be a big leaguer and that’s the biggest thing that a lot of people say. It’s already hard enough to become a big leaguer but once you get past that threshold and become a big leaguer, they say it’s harder to stay as a big leaguer because there are so many guys just like me and others that want to be a big leaguer as well.”

“They say it’s harder to stay as a big leaguer”

Sometimes major league honeymoons are very brief. Tom learned that quickly, when he was designated for assignment by Oakland, being released after less than three weeks with the American League club.

He was picked up on waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates however, and made his first National League appearance on April 28. But then on May 21, Tom was placed retroactively on the 10-day injured list due to a left wrist issue.

Undeterred, Tom would be back quickly. And he wasn’t retuning without making a statement. Making the starting lineup on May 29, the left fielder lined a solo home run over the right center field wall at PNC Park to make it 3-0 Buccos. It was the second game of a doubleheader that Pittsburgh won 4-0, completing the single day sweep over the Colorado Rockies.

The homer also occurred on Tom’s 27th birthday.

“I actually felt a little nervous again. Kind of like another second debut,” Tom said after the game. “Today was an unbelievable day. It’s a really good bounce back.”

Tom followed his home run Saturday with a 1-3 outing a day later, which included a walk, a run and an RBI.

The outfielder hit .417 with the Woodchucks in 2014, where he was a teammate of fellow MLB player Paul DeJong. Tom was the Cleveland Indians’ fifth-round selection in 2015. He progressed through the their farm system before being taken by the Athletics in last December’s Rule 5 draft.

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The Wisconsin Woodchucks are a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League. The 27-year old summer collegiate league is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 22 teams, drawing significantly more fans, in a friendly ballpark experience, than any league of its kind. A valuable training ground for coaches, umpires and front office staff, over 200 former Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (WAS), two-time World Series Champions Ben Zobrist (CHC) and Brandon Crawford (SFG) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (BOS), Jordan Zimmermann (DET) and Curtis Granderson (TOR).  All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League portal. For more information, visit www.woodchucks.com or download the new Northwoods League Mobile App on the Apple App Store or on Google Play and set the Woodchucks as your favorite team.