By Matt Feldman
June 13, 2016
Pomona-Pitzer College head baseball coach Frank Pericolosi has always been a strong proponent of two-sport players in college. As a standout baseball player at Williams College from 1994-1997, Pericolosi was also a four-year player on the football team.
So when Pericolosi recruited Tanner Nishioka from the Iolani School (Honolulu, Hawaii) to join the Sagehens baseball team, he made sure to get in contact with Pomona-Pitzer head football coach Roger Caron.
“I let the football coaches know, ‘I have all-state punter coming in’,” Pericolosi said. “And (Nishioka) was able to do it.”
Nishioka starred in both football and baseball in high school, earning all-state honors in both sports. After enrolling at Pomona-Pitzer, Nishioka joined both the baseball and football teams, starting all nine games of his freshman season as a punter, and starting 38 games for the baseball team, batting .399 with six home runs.
“It was fun, it was great getting to know both the football and baseball teams,” Nishioka said. “They’re great guys, and great teammates.”
Nishioka has since built off of his football background, developing into a hard-nosed, gritty player. He has ascended the ranks of Division III baseball, earning first team all Southern California Conference honors all three seasons, and a Division III All-American honorable mention this past season.
Last summer, Nishioka was one of the best hitters in the Alaskan League, earning first team all conference honors and batting .363 for the Matsu Miners, leading the team to a second place finish in the league. This summer, he is a temporary player for the Kettleers.
“He’s a very very good athlete, he can play just about any position on the field,” Pericolosi said. “He’s explosive, he has quickness, and he can just flat out hit.”
Pericolosi has seen the work ethic that two-sport athletes are capable of, which is one of the reasons he is so open to letting his players cross-train with other sports. He said that there is never a point where he would tell a player he can’t play two sports at the collegiate level, because there are so many benefits to the cross-training.
“(Playing two sports) works at the Division III level, because most of these guys aren’t standouts in both sports,” Pericolosi said. “That way, they know which sport is their best, and the other one is just there to help them train.”
Adam Hinthorn, an outfielder for the Sagehens baseball team, also plays as a cornerback on Caron’s football team. Pericolosi said that next season, he has three incoming football players trying out for the baseball team.
Pericolosi got his start as an assistant baseball and football coach at Pomona–Pitzer from 1998-1999. Since then, he has coached numerous two-sport athletes.
“(Nishioka) is a tough kid,” Pericolosi said. “He played through a broken toe his freshman season, and he’s always overcoming adversity through bumps and bruises. That’s a definite trait that football players have.”
In high school and college, Nishioka’s reputation as a two-sport star preceded him. Kekai Rios (Hawaii), currently a catcher for the Brewster Whitecaps, played in the same league in high school as Nishioka, but is two years younger than him.
“People didn’t really talk about him for baseball as much,” Rios said, “When I heard people talking about him, it was mostly for football.”
But after his first season with the Sagehens’ football and baseball teams, the neuroscience major quickly realized that academics are hard to balance while playing sports.
Nishioka also said his size was dangerous on the football field, standing at 6-feet tall and weighing just 180 pounds his freshman season. With that in mind, and also knowing baseball was his primary sport, he needed all year to focus on baseball.
“Well I wanted to focus on baseball, I thought that’s where possibly my future’s at,” Nishioka said. “I just wanted to work more on baseball and get as good as I possibly can.”
After just one season with the Sagehens football team, Nishioka decided to hang up his pads. He said that even though football wasn’t his main sport, the conditioning with the football team not only made him a better athlete, but it made him learn how to work hard, and he continues to try to incorporate that mindset into baseball.
Pericolosi agrees, and is adamant that with one year of college football under his belt, Nishioka developed into a much better athlete thanks to Caron and the training that he did with the Sagehens’ football team.
“He plays the game hard at all times, you can never question that,” Pericolosi said. “He’s one of the best players that I’ve ever coached.”
Writer’s note: Nishioka was released by the Kettleers on June 15, 2016.